Thursday, June 26, 2008

Two-year stats and stories

Tobin finally had his two-year wellness check-up today. We've been traveling a lot this month, so we weren't able to get to the doctor until today. He weighed in at 27 lbs. 13 oz., measured 34 inches long, and had a head circumference of 20 inches. Everything checked out fine. His doctor was particularly impressed with his verbal skills. She said something like it was "uncanny" that she could have a conversation with him, which apparently is unusual for two-year-old boys in her experience. Tobin finished off his charm offensive by saying, "Thank you, Tobin's doctor" to her as she left. She responded by telling him he could date her daughter (who's about 10 months younger) anytime.

Earlier this week we made the 11-hour car trip home from Tampa. I've written about it before, but I can't get over what a great traveler Tobin is. He is seriously better than I am in the car. I don't want to jinx anything but I also don't want to take it for granted. Our son is wonderful on the road.

Summer officially started for us June 13 with the end of Matt's (eighth!) school year. As we usually do, we will travel to see family, but this summer will be a different kind of traveling. Since Memorial Day, we've covered thousands of miles as a family, most of them in the car. One of these trips involved Tobin and me traveling alone to Atlanta and back (about six hours each way, picking up Aunt Ashley en route to Tampa). Again, he was just about perfect. Tobin has developed a fondness for Chick-fil-a ("Chicka-bay"), particularly for their indoor play areas and apple juice boxes.

When I think about what we're going through as a family right now, I wonder what Tobin will remember about this time. Has he noticed that since late October of last year, when we learned of his Granddad Smith's cancer diagnosis, that we have been to Kentucky more than usual? I know he's missed his daddy, who's been back and forth without us a few times. Did he have any sense of the importance of his birthday celebration to the combined Walsh-Smith family--with Granddad making a tremendous effort to make the long hard trip when he was quite sick and with us also learning only a couple weeks earlier that his Grandpa Walsh also has cancer? Will he have memories of this week in Tampa: visiting fun places with his dad during the day and then making brief visits to "Grandpa's doctor" (actually, Moffitt Cancer Center) each evening?

I don't know what Tobin will remember of these experiences, but I do hope that he will always understand what a blessing he is to us. How he lights up our hearts and lifts our spirits with his wonderful smile, funny syntax, and lyrical laughter.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Support staff

Tobin, Allison, and I are in Tampa this week to be with Allison's dad during his surgery and recovery (both of which have gone according to plan so far). During the day, while Allison is with her family at the hospital, Tobin and I have had lots of time together. When we're inside, we read books and play, but we've also taken advantage of some of what Tampa has to offer. Yesterday we went to the Florida Aquarium. I planted the seed of interest by telling T we were going to "see big fish." This video was taken right before we walked in:

While we were in the aquarium, Tobin would regularly squeal with delight "Big big fish!" "Ohhh, turtle!" (he pronounces is "tull-lull") "More big fish!" and so on. We saw sharks, lobster, bass, carp, koi, alligators, owls, egrets, heron, and hundreds more that I can't even remember. Tobin got to touch the fin of a ray in the "Touch tank." He saw penguins walking around the room in the coral reef exhibit. He even got to see divers in the shark tank. When we visited the gift shop, he picked out a little clownfish tchotchke. When we left the giftshop, he wanted to do something, but I couldn't tell what. He kept repeating something that sounded like "More fish orange fish." So we headed back upstairs to the big tanks. He held his clownfish up to every tank we passed. He wanted to show the real fish the fish he had picked out at the giftshop. This is a picture (not a great one) of T showing his clownfish to some of the clownfish in a tankToday we headed back to Lettuce Lake Park, where we visited yesterday morning. The big attraction for Tobin is the boardwalk ("big bridge") that winds for a about a mile through the park and along the lakeside. There is a three-story tower from which you can see most of the lake. Tobin loves to climb the steps himself (holding hands) and when he reaches the summit he says "Up high!" He enjoys pushing his own stroller, which seems to give him a great sense of responsibility. He points out the Spanish moss ("gray moss") hanging from the trees and is close to being able to tell the difference consistently between an egret and an ibis. On our first day in the park, Tobin saw a family of wild turkeys walking along the water's edge. He explains to anyone who asks that he saw "Mommy turkey, daddy turkey, and baby turkeys in the grass." I've put up more pictures at our Flickr site of our adventures the last couple of days. We're hoping the weather cooperates enough to take a trip to the zoo this weekend. Here's a picture of the view from the top of the observation tower at Lettuce Lake Park:

Monday, June 16, 2008

My third Father's Day

I guess Father's Day should be old hat to me by now, but it's still novel to celebrate it both as a father and a son. I definitely feel like the father of a little boy these days (see the video below for a glimpse into the way I spend my afternoons). I think everyone reading this is aware of the conditions of my dad and Allison's, so you'll understand my perspective in some of these thoughts. For me, the apprehension that necessarily comes with facing the prospect of losing my dad has also brought a more acute awareness of the importance of the father-son relationship. But it isn't a quantifiable entity. If I tried to label the relationship I have with my dad, I would call it an organic, breathing one that has grown up along with us. And while I might once have thought that my dad knew everything about being a parent, becoming one myself has made me keenly aware of the guesswork and anxiety that comes with the weighty (and joyful, and daunting) responsibility of having a son. I think my dad may have done a better job convincing me he knew what he was doing than I may with Tobin. Or maybe Tobin thinks that I know the answers to every question he could ever want to ask. I'd kind of like that to be the case, at least for a little while.

While my dad and I don't always share interest in the same things, one thing that I've always been able to count on--and at times take for granted--is that I'm loved and supported unconditionally. Even though our interests might have at times seemed at odds (my taste in music has in many places deviated significantly from my dad's), I can't think of a time when I didn't feel like my mom and dad were my biggest fans. I see a parallel in my philosophy of teaching. Students of mine like to ask when I knew I wanted to be a teacher or who my best teachers were. That usually gets followed up with the question "What makes a good teacher?" Attention to content, while important, isn't the most important component of teaching. The teachers that meant the most to me and were the most instructive forces on my life were the ones that made me feel important and encouraged me to push and pursue and discover for myself in addition to covering the curriculum of the course. I don't remember the list of books I read in my freshman English class in high school, but I remember that my opinion was valued and that my writing was encouraged. That encouragement, beyond the nuts and bolts of growing up, is what I see as the critical component of parenthood. My parents' encouragement is what allowed me to be a cellist who played varsity baseball and a youth-choir-member with a collection of hip-hop and rap CDs in my bedroom. I wasn't pigeonholed into a preordained "You should be like your dad" mold. It's taken me some time to realize it, but I've been my own person for as long as I can remember.

That's what I hope I can provide for Tobin. Even if he (shudder) takes a liking to Broadway musicals and Brontë novels, or grows to dislike baseball, I hope I can support and encourage him to find his own way, defining himself by his interests and myriad talents. He is a joy for more reasons than I can count. But one of the unexpected joys he has given me in an emotionally difficult time is a truer insight into my relationship with my dad.

Not only that, but he has remarkable skill hitting a ball with a bat (couldn't end on such a heavy idea; that's not my way or my dad's):