The Human Brain Weighs 8 Pounds.

Dear Carter,

This week, we found out you could and decided you would go to kindergarten.

You are 4 and 1/2 years old, by the skin of your teeth. You like your hair combed over to the side and sprayed while you shield your eyes. You like to wear Dad’s “smell-goods” on your shirt, and your skin in the summer is brown, brown, brown and your eyes are blue, bluer, bluest. You are too small and too mine to go to real school, but you are too far ahead to stay back.

I’m learning something very important from you right now. You are teaching me that courage comes easily when you have the right attitude. To you, challenges are not scary. To you, change is fun. To you, the best part of doing the maze is doing it.  Not in finding the answer or being right when its over.

I have spent all summer in denial about this whole you-starting-school thing. And now its here — you start on the 10th — and there’s no more pretending. The denial is the first mistake that I’m owning up to. The second is much harder.

I’m sorry I’ve spent so much time telling you how smart you are, kid. I’m going to try to change that up a bit. It’s not that you aren’t. It’s just that “smart” doesn’t cover what you are. You are things like determined and passionate and sensitive and intuitive — and all of these things need to be nurtured and worked on. Telling you that you were “smart” might give you the impression that its something you are or you aren’t. And that’s not true.

You are so curious.

You are so intense.

You are so good at following your instincts.

You love learning new things.

Those are much more accurate. Those are the traits you have that drive you. Those are the ways that help you grow so quickly.

If your future self is reading this, I want you to know that your brains stressed your late-twenties mama out. Don’t get her wrong, she is prouder than ever. She loves watching you soar. But it’s getting hard to talk about you and not have people think I’m bragging, all the time. It’s hard to feel understood when you’re complaining about how worried you are about whether or not to “accelerate” your “gifted” four year old. Everyone thought it was real cute when you were reading over my shoulder at 18 months. They still thought it was cute, though a bit strange, when you were obsessed with the solar system at 2. This summer, it’s been the human body — specifically the digestive system. You know which organs make enzymes and how vitamins get into your blood stream and what muscle helps you breathe. On the roller coaster last week, you shouted so hard that your esophagus was really sore and then decided that the ache was really back in your trachea.You told me that your liver was “like a car wash for your blood”. People kind of just stare and laugh now.

I don’t know what to call you, Carter Patrick. “Gifted” feels like a dirty word sometimes, the way it makes people uncomfortable or encourages ideas of privilege and advantage. If I say it out loud to anyone, I’ll inevitably feel sort of shamed and guilty. And that reaction makes me fume. Because raising a Carter Patrick, a “gifted” kid, is exciting — but it comes with a lot of scary parts, too.

I chose my graduate program based on you and Miley. At the time, I had this incredibly sensitive whiz-kid of a two-year old. And then I had this five-year old niece who was diagnosed with Asperger’s and could recall, to a T, every line to a movie she’d seen once or the exact dinner served on the second Tuesday of the previous month. To me, it was pretty clear that there was something in the water.

Here’s a couple of things that I learned about raising a gifted kid:

They have amplified sensitivities, amplified emotions (have you met Carter? Check.) They are more prone to depression. Prone to anxiety. Prone to getting bullied. They aren’t necessarily overachievers, in fact they are at higher risk for underachievement. They end up tutoring other kids or paired with slower learners to help them instead of getting to learn themselves — especially in our current educational culture, where schools are most concerned about getting those “falls below” students bumped into the “meets” range of our standardized tests.

So, to me, there is a very wide umbrella of ability levels that fall into “special needs”. And you’re definitely in there, kiddo. But it’s an exciting challenge, one with a lot of possible answers. We’re doing it.

You’re weird, Carter (and thank God for that — because that’s how I roll). But I am worried about staying even a step ahead of you and keeping your engine fueled. So right now, we’re going to try this early-kindergarten thing. If it works out, great. If not, well, we’ll come up with our next plan.

In the meantime, THIS is me bragging:

You are in kindergarten! You are going to be the most handsome boy in the school! I am so proud of you!

IMG_1041Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 4.12.03 PM

Love you. To the moon, but never back. It just keeps going.



Mr. Jack.

Sparks family photos
Four months old.

Sparks family photos

Dear Jack,

And just like that, you are four-months old. You love baths and walks outside. You sleep eleven hours a night. You don’t skip a meal. And, when I work really, really hard, you chuckle the sweetest old-man, raspy chuckle.

You are all chins and thighs and rolls, and I love it. You have softer skin than any baby I know, and you always smell like milk and soap. Maybe the most entertaining thing about you is your eyebrows and how much control you have over them. Such a skeptical child you are, Jack.

Two months old.

Just like I thought from your Spider Man-kicks in my belly, you are one strong little man. You’ve been flipping over from front to back. Just never in front of me — only when I put you down for your nap (and you’ll only sleep on your stomach, of course). Then, after I walk away, you’ll flip yourself over, almost without fail, to check out your mobile. Then you’ll get bored and cryyyy. It’s a vicious cycle.

You can reach for your bottle and grab toys that hang above you. You are the best hand-holder, always curling your fists around my fingers and squeezing. And you love mirrors. But it’s easy to see why.


You look just like your dad. A blue-eyed Jesse 2.0. But every now and then, I catch a glimpse of your Papa in your long face, or a glimmer of me as a baby in your full-cheeked smile.

Two weeks old.

You love watching your big brother, but it’s clear from your more-than-occasional scowls that you think he’s nuts. Hilarious, but nuts. The two of you fill my every day with early wake-ups, extra laundry, and a whole bunch of noise, but being the mom of two little boys is very much the best thing in the whole world.

Three months old.

Our personalities are so alike, Jack. I can already tell. That furrowed brow, that temper, that love for sleep (on your terms, anyway), and how, sometimes, only your mama will do. The best part of all is that you love to cuddle. You curl yourself up into whoever’s holding you and just nuzzle. It’s the best.

Jack, you’ve taught me quite a measure about patience. You’ve taught me to accept each day and what it brings, knowing that my role is to be what you need. You laugh in the face of my plans and schedules. Actually, you can go ahead and cut that out — it’s just plain mean. I get it, I get it.

Right now, you are belly-down in your crib, letting out little puffy snores. I walked in to check on you and you opened your eyes, smiled, sighed, and then re-closed them. You give me the heart flutters.

I love you, Apple Jack.



I’ll eat you up, I love you so.

Dear Carter Patrick,

“I love you, Mawm,” you half-giggled when you sat on my knees tonight grabbing my face. “Triiick urr Treeeat.”

On our drive home, an hour past your bedtime, you listed off the items you’d like to eat. “Chickin nuggits. Chickin nuggggits. Pea Nut But Ter. ‘Nems (M&Ms). Yullow ‘Nems.” Nevermind that you’d had a rather impressive stack of green beans and steak for dinner. “Drink. Finch Fies. Juice. Anana. Chickin nugggits.”

Twinkling holiday lights hanging in the mall. Soup steaming on the stove. I watch your eyes as you observe the smallest of minutia — what’s it like to be Carter and see the neighbor walking his dog? What does Carter think of the rain droplets on the windshield? To be honest, I don’t think I’d be half as mindful of my surroundings if I wasn’t constantly trying to see life from your fresh eyes.

You are pretty pleased with yourself when you are let to have your way. Today you had a snack in the bath tub, and as I stood in the doorway, I heard Jesse tell you, “Carter, get your cheese stick out of the water.” Fabulously entertaining, the things that I hear escape adult mouths, mine most included, these days. Can’t thank you enough for that.

You (still) love footballs, baseballs, orange-yellow-green-red-or-purple balls, “bass-kit-balls”, and all sporting equipment in general. You also like anything with wheels, anything that beeps, and anything that glows, but above all, you like anything that has to be figured out. You still love Mickey Mouse. You like reading and have started saying the words off the page before I get there. You’re smart that way. You put your toys back in the baskets and have an affinity for putting garbage in the trash can — you’re mimicking “hoops”. This week I found three sippy cups at the bottom of your hamper and a bottle of shampoo inside a drinking cup. Well played.

You are so very awake to the world these days. You’ve started to ask questions, your little voice pitching higher at the end of words and phrases. “Mawmmay, whereaaaaaaaa you?” You point and investigate and hunch down to get a closer look. “Wutts tat?”

Who I was before you, I can live without. Waking up and falling asleep, I think about you down the hall, and I know just what you look like and just how you’re breathing. I think about these past two years, and how I’ve known your sweet soul since you were the size of a blueberry, a kumquat, and and an orange. I knew you’d have blue-blue eyes and smell like summer laundry on the clothesline. I thought you’d be just like you are, charming and sensitive and and rough and tumble.

We have a lot in common, you know. Your indignance and sass, that’s me, and it’ll get you in trouble. Your dancing rhythm, or lack thereof, and the way your legs are ever so slightly bowed. Sorry about those two. Hopefully they’ll be endearing to others. The way your brow furrows when you’re thinking, and how you are compelled to laugh before the punchline. Your awe and love of nature and learning — how your eyes whisper at the moon, and the way you sigh when we finish books. I find myself wonderstruck, looking at a little boy-sized mirror.

But we’re also notedly different. You’re never shy. You’re coordinated. You’re dynamic. That’s all you, Carter Patrick. Watching you is exciting and heavy and light and breathtaking.

I can’t avoid that you’re going to have to turn two, my little walking clock. But in trying to keep up, I’m having the time of my life. I’ll eat you up, I love you so.