Eight

Eight is probably my favorite of the little kid ages. Young enough to want a first-thing-in-the-morning hug but old enough to get themselves ready for school with little intervention. Young enough to still be tucked into bed with stuffed animals each night but old enough to procure their own snacks. Young enough to laugh uncontrollably at a fart joke but old enough to be completely rational about concepts that would send a toddler into a tantrum.

Charlie turned eight years old about a week ago.

Charlie, at eight years of age, has asked for a later bedtime. As it currently stands, I send all three of the kids packing at 8:00 each evening. By that time of night, I have been on the job for 14 hours straight and while I love my children dearly, I no longer wish to see or hear them. To their rooms they must go. Charlie’s quest for a later bedtime messes a bit with my timeline but he was adamant so we found a compromise. I explained that he still had to head to his room at 8:00 p.m. but could now stay awake until 8:30. Charlie considered this a victory. More of a moral victory for sure, since when I check on him each evening around 8:05 or so, he is always sound asleep.

Charlie, at eight years of age, is still petite in stature. He is wee for his age. Shorter than his peers but just sort of tiny all over. His arms and legs are like matchsticks, especially when compared to Millie, who is one solid mass of a kid. I have trouble picking her up anymore but not Charlie. Charlie I can still swing up in my arms with ease and he still wants to be picked up. I feel like Charlie is part rechargeable battery, gathering his energy by hugging others. Most mornings, when I swoop him up for a big hug, Charlie still does that thing that little ones do where they tuck their arms down at their side, pinned almost by your arms so they can lean into you, head on your shoulder and you can completely envelop them in a hug. It’s like a kid version of a trust fall and someday, when you ask me, I will tell you that it is one of the things I miss most about this age.

Charlie, at eight years of age, tries valiantly to hide his emotions. You can see the tough kid resolve when he gets injured or his siblings have wronged him or when something doesn’t go according to plan. For years, Bob and I wondered when Charlie, our high emotion middle child, would cross this bridge. When he would better understand complicated logistics and the nature of time and we longed for the day when deviations and impatience wouldn’t result in a complete meltdown. We’ve finally arrived there. But, Charlie still feels deeply. A couple of weeks ago, a nice man from a neighboring town came to our house to buy our bunk bed set. With Henry in his own room, I was eager for Charlie to have a traditional bed. One that made changing the bed sheets 100 percent easier. After we loaded the bunk beds into the buyer’s trailer, Bob and I went inside and found Charlie’s bedroom door shut. When we entered, we found Charlie sobbing at his desk. We hurriedly asked what was wrong and he tearfully explained, “You’re selling EVERYTHING that I love!” Charlie was upset but didn’t want us to know. Bob and I hid our relieved smiles and promptly went about extolling the graces of his New! Bigger! Better! bed.

Charlie, at eight years of age, is working hard at school. We abruptly switched Charlie to a different elementary school at the beginning of March and he managed the big change with aplomb. He is thriving there, working towards mastering the basics that seem to be so difficult for him to master. His new teacher convened a big meeting a couple of weeks after his arrival. The conference room where we met was filled with various school staff and advocates that all want Charlie to find success. When the assistant principal asked me if I had any insight to share on Charlie, I paused. I thought for a bit and then explained that, yes, school will probably never be a favorite of Charlie’s however, if any one of them around that table were hopelessly lost in the woods, Charlie could help them survive for three days, no problem. Charlie’s skill set lies elsewhere but he’s got a huge team of people at his school working to help him learn, figuring out what interests to tap that will finally make things click. I’m confident we’re on the right path.

Charlie found me busy on my laptop the other day. He asked what I was doing and I said, “Writing! It’s just a modern version of your typewriter, Charlie.”

He grinned and replied, “Well, I AM kind of old-fashioned.”

Yes, you are Charlie. My old soul outdoorsman is now eight years old.

Pumpkinhead

For several months now, Charlie has been infatuated with the 1990s television show, Goosebumps. Based on the book series of the same name by R.L. Stine, the TV episodes are low-budget, poorly scripted and completely outdated in both costume and popular reference. It doesn’t matter to Charlie. He found the series on Netflix this past winter and has watched every show available. (There was a fancy movie version released last year and we have seen it but Charlie does not prefer the updated Jack Black version. Too current, too high definition.)

Charlie’s love for Goosebumps was so consuming that it even propelled him to put pen to paper, a task that Charlie finds rather loathsome and tedious. He stayed up late one night earlier this year carefully crafting his own Goosebumps fan fiction starring his favorite show’s characters. I was okay with the moderately scary storylines if the whole thing got Charlie interested in a. writing and b. reading and c. something OTHER THAN fighting with his brother over Nerf bullets.

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Then, on a seemingly unrelated note this past spring, Charlie began talking about planting pumpkin seeds.

“You want to plant a garden?” I asked. “No,” came the reply. “Just pumpkins. I want to plant pumpkins.”

Charlie became laser focused on growing pumpkins. It was all he could talk about.

Since I greatly dislike gardening of any kind I, at first, tried to dissuade Charlie from planting pumpkin seeds. Planting pumpkin seeds seemed like it might be kind of complicated and probably involved soil that was dirty and possibly weeding something and definite contact with bugs and all of that is just simply not my jam. In a last ditch effort at redirecting his endeavor, I may or may not have told him that you needed a permit from the city to plant pumpkins. (I’m not super proud of this but it was the last couple of weeks of school and my head was under water.)

Hitting a roadblock with me, Charlie then approached Bob with his entire pumpkin plan and because Bob is the Fun Parent, the Yes Parent, Bob promptly drove Charlie to the hardware store in town to purchase pumpkin seeds. The two of them carefully chose a window box-like container, added some potting mix, planted the seeds and away we went: Charlie as pumpkin farmer.

Charlie tenderly watered his potted seeds as needed, checking for change daily when he returned home from school. And, honestly, much to my surprise, right before we left for vacation in June, little green shoots appeared. Charlie was ecstatic! I didn’t know it at the time but his plan was taking shape.

We left the window box full of baby pumpkin plants in the trusted care of neighbors for the week we were in South Carolina. Charlie went over the strict care and watering instructions with our friends and with a certain amount of trepidation, he bid his pumpkin plants farewell.

When we returned, we were wholly surprised to see that the pumpkin plants were absolutely BURSTING from the window box. For a brief minute, I entertained the idea that our neighbors had somehow managed to kill the old pumpkin plants in a week’s time and done some kind of panicked switcheroo with much more mature pumpkin plants. Sort of like what you would do if a beloved goldfish belonging to your child died and a direct replacement was proffered before anyone was the wiser. However, (after admitting that they had, indeed, thought of a Plan B in the case of an untimely pumpkin plant demise on their watch), our neighbors assured us that they had not done anything more than follow Charlie’s careful instructions.

With the window box at maximum capacity, it became readily apparent that the pumpkin plants needed more room. They were not thriving in such a small space. So, Bob and Charlie scoped out the perfect spot near our basement steps and went about relocating the pumpkin plants. This involved trips to the local feed store for fencing and stakes and all manner of pumpkin support and protection items. We were all nervous that the trauma of new ground would just be too much for the tender little plants but we really had nothing to fear. The pumpkins did just fine.

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In fact, they did better than just fine. They thrived.

When it became apparent that this venture of Charlie’s might actually prove successful, I asked him what he had planned for his pumpkins. I assumed he had remembered something from school about roasting pumpkin seeds or making pumpkin pies but he instead informed me that he wanted to make a scary jack-o’-lantern.

“Oh, for the front porch, bud? For Halloween?” I asked. “That’s a great idea.”

“Well, yes for Halloween but not for the front porch,” Charlie said. “The jack-o’-lantern is for my head.”

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Charlie’s plan had come full circle.

Charlie explained that, for Halloween, he intended to dress up as a scary jack-o’-lantern just like a character found in one of his favorite Goosebumps stories and the pumpkins he was growing were meant to complete his costume. He would wait patiently while a pumpkin grew on the vine, then he would pick it, clean it out, carve out the scary face and terrorize the neighborhood.

I absolutely commend his foresight and am incredibly impressed with his ability to plan.

I, however, have doubts about if these pumpkins can grow to a useful size.

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Hand for scale.

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Hand for scale.

If these little pumpkins don’t get a move-on, we might still yet have to pull a switcheroo, come the end of October, with something of a more suitable size.

And, in the ultimate Goosebumps-like finale to this tale, the pumpkin plants appear to be taking over our yard, our railing and our basement steps, reaching their long tendrils and big leaves straight for the house. This is the current view from my bedroom window. It’s only a matter of time before our house is consumed. It’s like something straight out of a horror show.

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That’s a Wrap

And, just like that, another school year has come to a close.

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That’s a rising second grader on the left, a rising fifth grader on the right and a never-misses-a-good-party Pre-K’er in the middle (at least she’s consistent).

These last six weeks of school were especially busy. There were just SO MANY details to keep track of. It seemed like a race to fit in as many activities and outings and meetings before the big summer break. Here, I made you a handy chart that summarizes what it all looked like:

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This chart fails to show my cookie consumption and how it closely follows the trajectory of blue and red lines.

I am relieved that we are on the other side of school and that our schedules will be, well, less scheduled for the summer months.

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Not shown: last day of school coonskin cap.

Look, I know it’s in poor taste to brag but take a seat, because I’m going to brag about Henry for a minute. As part of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL) for fourth grade students, Henry took part in a “Race to the Governor’s House,” a nine-week intensive study of Virginia state history. Each week, Henry would study a new set of flash cards covering topics ranging from geography to trade to persons of historical significance. Then, he would take a test on those topics. His performance was pitted against the performance of his classmates in the race.

The competition amongst the fourth graders was intense, this we knew. Henry would update us weekly on his position in the race and explained that the whole thing was coming down to him and two other friends. When we headed to the school for the special Race to the Governor’s House awards ceremony, we were a little anxious since we knew how excited he was for the final results. When Henry took home first place, we were elated.

Now, here’s where I admit that, overall, Bob and I were pretty hands-off with this race stuff. We tend to focus a lot of our homework completion laser eyes on Charlie so Henry runs mostly on auto-pilot. I signed the slip giving Henry permission to participate in the race (probably because that was all the way back in March), I saw the flash cards that Henry would bring home and I occasionally quizzed him on the topics covered. But, we really didn’t realize just how hard he was studying for this or just how diligent he was in taking the tests. Because, to our complete surprise, Henry won the Race to the Governor’s House by correctly answering 31 questions each on 9 separate exams. He answered 279 questions out of 279 questions correctly. His teacher pointed out that they weren’t multiple choice questions, either. Most questions were open-ended where he had to write in the answers from, like, his own brain. He had to really, really know a lot about Virginia history. He aced the whole thing. THE WHOLE THING.

We are so proud of his accomplishment. Henry is, too.

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I posit that nerd trophies are WAY better than sports trophies.

We have a lot of fun plans for this summer and I’m enjoying how much easier it is to explore and investigate and travel now that the kids are a bit older. Our adventures are more enjoyable with each passing year.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still settle an innumerable amount of sibling arguments each day, spend a good portion of the time wondering how much screen time is really too much screen time and count down the August days until they return to their classrooms but, until then, you’ll find me lazily sleeping in until 6:30 in the morning. I know, YAY SUMMERTIME!