A letter to Finn, six-year-old boy

IMG_7907 IMG_7951 Finn,

After your shower on the day you turned six, I wrapped you in a towel, picked you up with great effort, and carried you out of the bathroom as if you were an oversized bundle, saying that this may be the last birthday on which I’ll be able to do such a thing. I delivered those lines lightly, but now as I think about them, they feel heavy. I’ve probably done the post-bath-wrap over 2000 times, pulling one side of the towel across you one way and then the other the opposite direction in criss-cross fashion to keep you warm, secure, and enclosed within my arms. But it’s getting difficult for my 100-pound body to lift you these days. As much as I’ll always wrap my arms around you, you’re far too big a boy to contain inside of them.

You’ve marked this past year with mammoth steps taken in shoes that you’ve finally tied yourself. You rode down our neighborhood street on your TWO-WHEELED bright orange mutant mongoose bicycle, scored your first soccer goal in your own cleats and shin-guards, and started at a new school in a very mature-looking polo-style uniform (which you didn’t want to wear). In all three instances you hesitated, stepping back in trepidation before you stepped forward to win what we call “the battle of the brain.” At first you feared falling off your bike, avoided the action in soccer practice, and clung to me crying when I dropped you off as a new kindergartener. But you learned that with practice you COULD balance on two wheels and take control of a soccer ball, and after over a week of teary drop-offs at school, I heard you tell yourself one morning, “I HAVE to beat this!” You still struggle with moving outside of your comfort zone, but you’ve learned that internal battles are yours alone, and that your success in mastering your fears depends upon leaving my arms.

And the truth is that much of the time, you don’t even want my arms around you. Whereas you used to always ask me to pat you to sleep, now when I lie down beside you at bedtime, my hand lightly on the small of your back or at the silky nape of your neck, you often suggest I go to grade papers or exercise. It’s something I used to remind you I had to do when you didn’t want me to leave at bedtime. Now you remind me.

You’re so independent, Finn. You took it upon yourself to make your own birthday party “invitashin” this year — over two months before your birthday. According to your version, complete with starting and ending times, menu, and pictures of dinosaur digging tools, the party would be eight hours long, and we would be serving ham, hot dogs, and eggs — despite the fact that we are vegetarian. You’ve also taken it upon yourself to write and illustrate a few of your own dinosaur books this year, such as Dinosaurs Rule!, which opens with a table of contents and contains hand-drawn hyperlinks, and DINO ABC, which identifies and illustrates a dinosaur starting with each letter of the alphabet and includes not only phonetic spelling but also a small human stick figure on each page for size reference. You’ve created your own board game, too — entitled, of course, Dinosaura — which cleverly allows us to use small plastic dinosaurs as game pieces, but has boxes that get incrementally smaller toward the bottom of the board so that when a player gets down there, only a dino’s tail can point to the proper spot.

Most colossally significant, however, is the fact that you’re a completely independent reader. Although I’ll always love reading with you every night, you still spend a fair amount of your time reading on your own, and even voluntarily participate in the accelerated reader program at school. You’ll read about anything, but prefer your science topics: you’ll sit for long periods poring over dinosaur information cards or digging for details in fossil guides or Jurassic-sized prehistoric animal encyclopedias, a hobby that has made you an expert. I never imagined that before the age of six you would surpass your parents in your weighty knowledge of a subject. My kindergartner has become my teacher.

I like to think that you’re mine, Finch. But you are in your own right a scientist, reader, soccer player, bike rider, swimmer, illustrator, and, yes, a little giant of a comedian. You are your own boy. A six-year-old boy. I’m so proud of you, Finn.

With T-Rex hugs…

I love you,

Mommy IMG_7931 IMG_7939




You’re in kindergarten! At the same time that I’m thinking this is impossible to believe, I also know you’ve been ready for elementary school for some time now. You’re so independent and smart and curious, driven to learn, invent, and teach. You lounge cross-legged in your room as you research fossils or prehistoric animals on your own; you sit intently at the table to write and illustrate your own books, like Dinosaurs Rule! or Dino ABC; you design your own games, such as Dinosaura or  “dinosaur school;” you write and deliver us notes — informative ones about how you want to go swimming, or silly ones about how your eye fell out; and you’re such a wonderful reader! Last year you impressed me by sitting in front of my senior English classroom and reading a real book aloud to my eighteen-year-old students. Of course I wasn’t surprised that you could read to them; I was surprised that you DID read to them. You were so brave that day.

I guess that’s the hard part: managing the fear of something new. There’s a difference between learning within your own comfort zone and integrating into a completely new environment. After three years at the Montessori school, you didn’t want to leave. But we thought the transition would be easier in kindergarten, when your peers would be going through the same thing, too, and we care just as much about your social and emotional development as we do your intellectual growth. So I tried to prepare you as best I could: we talked about it, we visited the school, we met the teacher. I got you a special dino fossil lunchbox and backpack that you loved.

...before we headed out this morning on the way to Finn's first day of kindergarten!

You posed and smiled for me in your big-boy uniform and backpack on that first morning before we left, but you were scared, and as I drove you to school, you clearly documented your feelings from your car seat:

On the way to the first day of kindergarten from Sarah on Vimeo.

I was so proud of you for your self-awareness and honesty, and for the fact that you bravely walked into the school with me even though you were frightened. That’s what bravery IS Finn. It is not the same as fearlessness. To be brave, you have to acknowledge, face, and deal with fear. And you did.

It’s been two weeks now, and you’re still struggling with the transition. So am I. On days three to five, you cried and clutched at me when I left you, and although you were calmer this second week, mornings are hard. Sometimes you insist that you don’t want to go to school even though your teacher says you seem to be enjoying new friends in class. You resist getting out of bed, putting on your uniform, and getting out of the car even though you’re usually happy when I pick you up at the end of the day. It’s the mornings, you say. You don’t like the mornings.

I understand mornings completely, Finn. They will get better — and they will become part of a larger and more complex picture of what school means to you and your everyday life. When this morning I asked you, the 2-week kindergarten veteran, to list good things about school, you quickly replied, “I think my classroom is the best. I love the computers. My teacher is awesome. I like making new friends. My lunchbox and backpack are great!”

YOU are great, Finn. Congratulations on that — and on being a kindergartener.

Summer 2014

This summer started with Finn’s first family road trip. Rather than fly up to visit family in Michigan, we decided on a slow drive with lots of stops. We loaded up the Prius with suitcases, a cooler of snacks, a couple of ipads, and lots and lots of books.

On the road!

Our first destination was the Kennedy Space Center, where Finn stood tall in front of a rocket garden,…

Rocket Garden

…saw the inside and outside of the Space Shuttle Atlantis,…


Piloting the Space Shuttle Atlantis?

…went back in time to the Apollo mission and unbelievably large Saturn V rocket,…



…and touched a real rock from the moon!


After we left Cape Canaveral, we headed up to St. Augustine’s Castillo de San Marcos, a masonry fort in the oldest city in the country. The stones were hot. Our visit was short.

St. Augustine


We spent our second night in Savannah. The early evening was beautiful and as the sun dropped in the sky, Finn kicked a soccer ball around under the moss-covered trees with Daddy and a fellow soccer-lover who just happened to be walking by.

The next morning we drove from Georgia into the Smokies — Finn’s first-ever glimpse of real mountains. He loved the roller-coaster feel of the roads and the tall, shadowy trees that lined them.


We drove along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, first stopping to watch a mama bear and her cubs:


Then we parked for a hike up to Grotto Falls — a hike that ended up being over three miles round trip. Finn walked the entire way, climbing over tricky roots and rocks.


We kept thinking we were almost there since we heard the water long before we arrived at the waterfall. I think the wait made it better.

IMG_7318 IMG_7313

We took some photos, ate a snacky lunch atop a big rock, and then explored.


Our other Tennessee stops were less idyllic (while more expensive), but Finn enjoyed them all the same. Rock City had some pretty overlooks, but was seriously blighted by garden gnomes. I specifically framed my shots to avoid them.



We also hit the touristy Ruby Falls, where we took an elevator into an underground cave to a waterfall inside of Lookout Mountain. Finn pretended he was going back in time to a prehistoric cave and searched for ancient fossils from the Cretaceous time period.

Ruby Falls

He “panned” for fossils again in Pigeon Forge along one of the cheesiest, most commercially-oriented streets I’ve ever seen (imagine putt-putt golf venues lined up next to gift-shops with Godzilla heads sticking out of them). But it was well worth it to see Finn so excited to “find” an ammonite, nautiloid, brachiopod, and fossilized tooth.

A little (fake) mining in Tennessee

After five days of driving and exploring, we were eager to arrive in Michigan, where Finn spent over a week with his Aba and Abuelo and enjoyed time with his cousins and other extended family.

We took walks and waded through creeks…

The kids and a creek

Walking through the creek

…and spent lots of special time at the lakeside cottage where my father grew up.











Today was our last summer visit to Sugden Lake, and Finn was the last one out there.

Finn visited the cottage in 2009, 2011, and 2012, but this year he was much more independent — a boy off doing his own thing with a net or a bucket or shovel, a boy running around with some of the cousins he hadn’t seen in two years.

At the end of our last trip to the cottage, it was hard to leave.

It was also hard for Finn to say goodbye to a new little friend he’s not likely to see again — a baby raccoon he discovered one afternoon, chirping away desperately under a tree. When we checked back later that night and found the young animal still alone, weak, and very hungry, his mother still nowhere in sight, my father brought him in.

We called him Rocky. A few days later my father managed to find a proper and caring place for him — one that would allow him to socialize with other raccoons and then release him into the wild when he was old enough. Before Rocky left for his new home, Finn held him close to say goodbye, listening to him purr.

A short time later, we said goodbye to all of our loved ones in Michigan, loaded up our Prius, and crossed into Ohio.

First we drove past corn. Lots of corn.

Driving through Ohio. Lotsa corn.

Then we made a very important stop at Caesar Creek Lake Visitor Center to pick up a bona fide fossil hunting permit. We had plans to embark on a real fossil hunt in a 450 million year old Ordovician Sea bed.

Today we did some REAL fossil hunting in a 450 million year-old Ordovician sea bed.


Although the finds weren’t as impressive as those found in our $25 “fossil bucket” back in Tennessee, the experience was far more authentic. In fact, it was so authentic that after a little over an hour, Finn was reconsidering his long-held goal to be a paleontologist.

The Tennessee Aquarium evoked more excitement from Finn, particularly because the animals there were a little more, well, alive (except for the penguin he’s hugging below).

Spent part of the day at the Tennessee Aquarium


But then it was fossils and prehistoric animals all over again at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, where we saw a giant Woolly Mammoth skeleton and other prehistoric mammals, as well as a Megalodon jaw:

At the Florida Museum of Natural History

Even more jaw-dropping for Finn, however, was actually something a little LESS real: the 200+ life-sized replicas at Dinosaur World in Plant City. I think I have a picture of him with every known species of dinosaur (but won’t post them all here, don’t worry!).


Finn's fantasy location: Dinosaur World


Finn even won a “game show” contest, and corrected the “paleontologist/game show host” on one of the questions, which asked which animal was NOT a dinosaur, a tyrannosaur, a pterodactyl, or a Woolly Mammoth. Finn protested, “A Woolly Mammoth isn’t a dinosaur, but neither is a pterodactylus! It’s a flying reptile!”


As if that weren’t enough, we stopped in Orlando to celebrate fourth of July and Gram’s birthday with Keith’s family. There were stellar fireworks, decadent desserts, and lots of horseplay with Finn’s cousins.


Finn and his cousins horse around in the pool


When we finally got home sweet home, we had been gone for three weeks. While we were away, Finn sometimes cried at night that he was homesick, but upon entering the house again, he cried because it seemed so strange to him. “I’m hotel-sick!” he wailed. “I’m abuelo-house sick!” Then he he walked up to the magnetic board in his room and pulled off an old picture of Willow, Abuela’s dog. “I’m Willow-sick!” he said, real tears down his face. I understand that transitions are difficult for him, and that three weeks is a greater chunk of his life span than it is of mine. Time goes so fast for me these days, it seems.

But it didn’t take long for life to fall into a normal pattern for Finn again. We’ve still spent much of summer doing what we always do:


Finn and Margot take a break from the lazy river

Summer 2014




Crazy cupcake making


Fun today at Young at Art Children's Museum


…playing games,…

The cousins play a board game -- on a Monday afternoon! It's summertime!

Finn has created a new board game for us to play. It's called (surprise, surprise) Dinosaura.

…exploring the prehistoric world of dinosaurs…

Finn and a triceratops skull

T-Rex cafe' was basically a dream come true for Finn. I just got a little disturbed when the restaurant delivered its tri-hourly "meteor shower" during which lights flashed, the dinosaurs moved, and Finn repeated, "please don't die, dinosaurs!"

…and just spending time with people we care about:

Having fun with cousin Oliver

Back home with friends @nathalia_ruiz

Happy cousins!

Getting Into Soccer

I’ve heard Finn identify himself as a “bookworm” and tell people he’s “into science.” Although I absolutely love hearing those things, I also want him to be well rounded and physically active, of course. Since soccer was a big part of Keith’s youth, we always planned on putting him on a team pretty early, but for some reason we didn’t until he turned five. At first, while kids with experience were aggressively chasing the ball, Finn was chasing butterflies or running off the field to tell me that he spotted stratus clouds in the sky. He was just NOT into that ball. But he loved being on “Team Dino” with Daddy as a coach, he loved the snacks, and he loved running through the “parent tunnel” we made with arched arms at the end of each game.

Then one day some of the dominant players were absent for a game, and with more opportunities to kick the ball, Finn scored his first goal. Suddenly, he was more focused on the action and more interested in practicing his footwork. Suddenly, he became more than just part of a team: he became a player.

These days, Finn is still very into books and crazy-into dinosaurs and fossils. But he’s also watching the World Cup with Daddy and kicking the ball around in the park just for fun.

Finn is finally “into soccer.”

Riding a bicycle!

Before I was a mother, I just didn’t understand the celebration and pride associated with simple accomplishments like walking and talking. After all, we all do it, don’t we? I couldn’t fully appreciate what seemed so ordinary. Yet somehow Finn’s first pseudo-words seemed like miracles and his first awkward steps across his room at eleven months nearly sent me into hysterics. Similarly, when this past spring Finn went from falling-down without training wheels to gliding around on a (much more instructive) balancing bike to finally riding his very own big boy bicycle down and BEYOND our driveway, I exhibited the same degree of shameless excitement. In fact, in retrospect I see that both his first walk and his first ride evoke a nearly identically dorky, gushing, I’m-almost-afraid-to share-this mommy voice.

Walking and riding a bike are significant rites of passage — both signs of independence AND of communion. Finn is not only growing up to become his own person, but also joining the rest of us. Now, as the Royal Poinciana in our backyard starts to bloom fire and we await the advent of our long summer days, I can plan for real evening family bike rides — not the rides of the past when I strapped Finn into the bike seat right behind me as passenger, but rides on which Finn pedals alongside us on his own bright orange Mutant Mongoose.


Cold and happy

Snow becomes even more romantic when you’re never in it. Every winter holiday, images of the way things should be — purely, sparkly, crisply white — make me feel like we’re missing some kind of magic. This year I really longed to see Finn slide down a hill on an orange saucer and bring to life his own snowman… so although we usually travel to Michigan in the summertime, I bought tickets for February. Instead of our usual Valentine’s picnic on the grass in a pair of jeans and sandals, we hiked across a frozen river behind my parents’ house wearing long underwear and snow pants, boots, and jackets.

It was cold and beautiful, but Finn, seeing snow for the first time, just wanted to play in the stuff. So we did.

At a local park, we went down hills so fast that icy shavings flew up from the surface of the snow into our faces:

Then my father tied a rope to a bright orange saucer and he and Keith took turns pulling Finn in circles:

Unfortunately the snow wouldn’t pack at all, making a real snowball fight and authentic snowman pretty impossible. But we did our best to try. We tossed icy chunks at one another…

… and heaped the slippery snow into a mound that was at the most eight inches high. Our “snowman” was pretty pathetic, but he was ours, complete with red berry eyes, little sticks for arms, and a leaf for hair:

This snow will not pack! But we can't leave Michigan without crossing "snowman" off of Finn's to-do list, so...um...

We also relaxed a bit on an idyllic sleigh ride,…

Winter sleigh ride!

…lounged in a comfy chair by the fire with the dog, Willow — otherwise known as “Finn’s pillow,”…

… and at the end of each day, took turns thawing in a lovely claw-foot tub:

Warming up in a claw-foot tub after a cold day of sledding!

Finn’s first snow was, in Finn’s words, “pretty cool.” Then he had to explain with a smile that he meant that “in two ways.”

I agree in both respects, little man.

Camping in the back yard

One of the first things we did in 2014 was to sleep outside. Not outside in the wild, or in the woods, or even at a camp site. Just outside.

Finn had never been camping, and neither had our friends’ girls, so the group of us decided that our back yard would be a good place to start… a test to see how the kids would handle it — and, well, the adults, too. After all, the last time Keith and I had gone camping was in Maine about a decade ago, and the last time my close friend Lisa camped was with me on a road trip we took out west when we were twenty-five.

So we ordered a tent, borrowed another, bought a couple of sleeping bags, special little lanterns, a fire pit, and marshmallows… and then waited for the temperature to drop enough to be comfortable. Luckily, on the last weekend before break ended, it cooled down to 60 degrees — our first chilly night of the season.

We skewered veggie kabobs and set up the tents, first the small one for the kids,

IMG_6668…and then the larger, two-room get-away for the adults:


Getting ready to camp in the back yard!

After the tents were up and the kids had loaded theirs with sleeping bags, pillows, flashlights, stuffed animals, books, and a soccer ball, we tried to enjoy a nice dinner outside…. But the kids ate quickly and then ran off to play, riding a scooter, a motorized bike, and a ziggle around the patio until Finn, in all of his excitement, landed right into the unheated pool. It was a bit of a downer to say the least — something that only a few gooey S’MORES could improve:


And then it was time to play music around the campfire…



…although the truth is that it was really about 77 torturous rounds of JUST the chorus of “Jingle Bells” sung around the fire pit Keith had picked up that day from Home Depot.

As if we couldn’t get any more authentic, to finish off their first night of “camping,” the kids watched Wall-E on a laptop inside their tent…


…and then yelled out non-sensical rhyming couplets past midnight until I finally had to threaten that I would take Finn inside the house to sleep.

At some point things grew quiet and the kids dozed off, but as for me, my shoulders were all that kept falling asleep, and Keith was up in the middle of the night trying to repair a broken well pump that he heard going off on the other side of the garden.

When morning finally arrived, the adults were up early, eager to be off the ground, and I trekked through the yard and back into the house to press some strong coffee and make some oatmeal walnut scones. As I headed back out, I saw Finn darting back and forth between the two tents. Apparently the kids were sneaking things (like my water bottle) out of ours to hide in theirs:




It was a far cry from real camping, but — clearly — they had fun. A good start to 2014.