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Cullen is 4.5!

July 29th, 2014

It’s time for Cullen’s next letter…he turned 4 and a half on July 22nd.

Dear Cullen,

Today, you are four and a HALF. I do feel like you’re growing up fast, but at the same time I feel like you should already be going to kindergarten. I think I feel this way because you seem ready for it, especially as you see the things that your sister is doing at school. You are pretty much ready for kindergarten now, but you have another year to go. I think that year will be good for you, though. While you are excited about reading and counting and ready for all of the academic challenges, you could use a bit of emotional maturity. You still like to throw tantrums when you don’t get your way, so we are working on “good responses” to disappointing things. On some days, I think you’re getting better. On other days, it can be quite frustrating!

One of the most exciting things for me in the last six months has been teaching you how to read. You are doing great with sounding out almost any short vowel words, and you’re learning some of the rules for long vowels. We have been reading together most nights. Sometimes you get frustrated, and we see classic outbursts. This happens more often when you’re very tired. I’m so proud of you. You learn quickly, and it was fun coming up with cues that helped you learn. We had little tricks to get you to remember some of your sounds, like pointing to my “nose” for the “n” sound. Eventually, you’d know them without the cues. Teaching you to read has been very rewarding.

You’ve gained quite a bit of skill in video games over these past six months. You still enjoy playing the iPad, but you now prefer playing Mario 3D Worlds or MarioKart on the Wii U or Super Mario DS on the Nintendo DS. You like watching us play games, too. Lately, Daddy has been playing a lot of Pikmin 3, and we all enjoy that. We do have to force you to take some breaks from video games from time to time. You get obsessed with them, and we feel like game frustrations can affect your overall attitude. Taking a break for a couple of weeks helps with the negatives. Overall, we are excited that you’re showing more interest in video games. You’ve also had a higher interest in board games recently, and your favorite right now is Candyland. You also enjoy Max the Cat, Kids of Carcassonne, Loopin’ Louie, and Too Many Monkeys. We’re working on good sportsmanship. You and your sister tend to get upset when you lose, and you gloat a bit too much when you win! I’m thrilled you love playing games of all kinds.

You and your sister continue to be close, and I tell people that the two of you are like twins at times. You’re awfully close to her in size, so we get asked often whether you are twins. You’re only about 2.5 pounds lighter and not much shorter than your sister. I’m not sure how Maddie is going to feel when you’re bigger than her, but it seems likely to happen one of these days! You and Maddie can be very sweet together, but you can also have big fights! That is to be expected with siblings, no matter how well you get along.

Shortly after my last letter, you had your official birthday party with your two best classmates, Austin and Blaise. You wanted to invite Austin’s sister Elizabeth for Maddie to have a friend, too. The next month, Maddie insisted on inviting Austin to her painting birthday party. For your party, we saw The Lego Movie before going out to dinner. We have been singing the movie theme song, “Everything is Awesome” ever since. We enjoyed it! You and Maddie have had a renewed interest in Legos, especially after Daddy and I made an effort to create a place for you and Maddie to put all of your Legos and display some of your assembled sets. Your displays are similar to the movie with a mix of Maddie’s mostly Friends (the line of Legos marketed to girls) and your Ninjago, Star Wars, and Lego City sets. The ninjas often visit “Heartlake City,” which amuses everyone.

In between your birthdays, we had two big snow events. Considering that the last time we had measurable snow in this area was when you were an infant, this was a big deal! The first snow was about 4 inches of powdery snow. You and Maddie were so excited. We weren’t able to make a snowman, but that didn’t stop you both from trying to make snowballs and throw them at Daddy. They “balls” mostly ended up being showers of powder flying through the air.

The second snow was even more at about 6 inches or so. We knew that the snow might be coming, so I went around and tried to find sleds. I found what was probably two of the last sleds in the area. I’m so glad that I did as you and Maddie loved sledding down our street! We also made snow cream for the first time, and we all thought that was a fantastic treat. Our area was a mess. The snow was fairly well forecasted, but we don’t tend to believe we’re going to get the white stuff in the south until it starts falling. Unfortunately, it started falling fast and roads were quickly impassable. Traffic jams were widespread, and many people took 6 hours to drive what is normally a 15 minute drive or gave up and found hotels instead. I get nervous about those things, so I went to get you early and we headed home before it started. Maddie’s school had been cancelled ahead of the storm, and Daddy was already home with her. We were all thankful to be home together.

Valentine’s Day was a snow day for us this year. We started the day with heart shaped pink pancakes and ended with heart shaped chocolate chip cookies. We had cute little Lego bears with hearts that you and Maddie inexplicably dubbed the Botatunia bears. Don’t ask me why. Like I said, you guys are like twins and sometimes you just come up with your own words and stories and feed off of each other.

We had a few other weather threats this season, so we were especially grateful that the weather didn’t affect our Disney cruise! The cruise was wonderful. We had a fairly uneventful drive down and back to Florida. All things considered, you and Maddie are pretty good in the car, even on long trips. We didn’t even break out the iPads and LeapPads on the way down to Florida until the last couple of hours. Our cruise started in Port Canaveral and stopped in St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island). We cruised with Grandma and Grandpa on the Disney Fantasy, which is Disney’s newest ship in their fleet and debuted in 2012.

Whenever we ask you what your favorite part of the cruise is, you reply “The Aquaduck.” The Aquaduck is a water slide attraction on the ship that you rode exactly once. After you rode it, you said it was “great” but that you would ride it again when you’re a grown up. You’re not really the thrill seeker that your sister seems to be. I think you were quite scared on the water slide. I think you want to like it, but you just can’t quite get past the fear of it. You spent a lot of time in Nemo’s Reef, which is the splash area for younger kids. You and Maddie both loved the family hot tub (which we called the “warm pool” or “hot pool”) and the Mickey Pool which was a shallow pool shaped like Mickey’s head. We were relieved to see both of you enjoying the water. You have been afraid of the water in the past.

Our best port stop was St. Thomas where we took a boat excursion to a beach in St. John. The beach was beautiful, and the weather was perfect. We played in the sand, swam in the crystal clear waters, and enjoyed our time together. Everyone loved it. We took an excursion on St. Maarten which involved going to a carousel, touring some parts of the island, and enjoying some gelato. It was a bus tour, and it wasn’t the most exciting tour for young kids. The beach excursions are much better at your age! Unfortunately, we were unlucky with weather on Castaway Cay. Many people talk about this being the highlight of their cruise, so we are eager to visit again someday. It was overcast and rainy all day, and it was a bit too chilly to enjoy the beach. We made the best of it for a few hours, but then we went shivering back to the ship and enjoyed the warmer Mickey pool and poolside movies. One of our most memorable moments came after Daddy had brought over a plate of grapes for snack, and we had just wrapped you in a towel to warm you up. You sat there in the beach chair and dramatically proclaimed, “This rain is a tragedy!” This statement was followed quickly by a directive, “Feed me grapes!”

We may have been unlucky with the weather on Castaway Cay, but other experiences more than made up for that. On the first day, we dropped off our pillowcases with the customer service desk so that they could be autographed by the characters. You were with me, and when Bruno asked who should sign his pillow, you really wanted Bruno to sign it in addition to the classic Mickey characters. That night, we returned to our room to find a note from Bruno saying that we had been selected as the “Magical Family of the Week.” We had no idea what that meant at the time. The initial letter included arcade passes. We were showered with gifts throughout the week (sparkling cider, chocolate covered strawberries, chocolate coins for pirate night, and a special certificate and buttons commemorating our magical family status). On the last night, he left us a photo folio with one of our best family photos from the trip and a large Mickey ball stuffed toy for both you and Maddie. We stopped by to thank Bruno many times. He was a friend to all of us, but you and Bruno were special friends. If you hadn’t asked for his autograph, I don’t know if we would have been selected for the special treatment!

While on the ship, we played a lot of Midship Detective. This was a game that involved a special badge that you held up in front of marked paintings to get clues in a mystery. This was a neat way to travel around the ship, and it was a great activity to do while waiting for a character meeting or dinner time.

We met so many characters on the cruise. Some of the characters we met many times, in different outfits. My favorite was pirate night when we met almost all of the classic characters in their pirate costumes. Throughout the cruise, we met Minnie (including Princess Minnie), Mickey, Cinderella, Sofia the First, Belle, Daisy, Anna (from Frozen), Pluto, Snow White, Tiana, Aladdin, Peter Pan, Smee, Hook, Jake (from Jake and the Neverland Pirates), Captain Jack Sparrow, Goofy, the Genie (from Aladdin), Pinnochio, Dopey (the dwarf), Stitch, Tinkerbell, and Donald. Your favorites were Mickey, the princesses, Minnie, and Stitch. You and Maddie seem to love Stitch. On the TVs in the cabin, we had just about any Disney movie or show on demand. You two wanted to watch Lilo and Stitch (the first or second one) most of the time.

You two went to the kids’ club once. This is often a highlight of the trip for most kids, and they beg to go to the kids’ club. We didn’t force the issue, and you guys weren’t interested in returning again. Maybe you two will want to spend more time there next time. This time, we spent most of our time together as a family. A few times, Grandma hung out with you and Maddie to allow Daddy and I to go to a trivia session or do something after your bedtime. We love the family time, but it is nice for Daddy and I to get some time to take advantage of some of the activities targeted at adults!

You rarely take naps when you are with us. Sometimes, I can get you to sleep after laying down with you for an hour or two. Then you might sleep for an hour or two. As much as I love to take a nap, I don’t always have the energy to fight you to take it when you’re home with us! When you don’t take a nap, you tend to go to bed a little easier in the evenings. Unfortunately, that also means you can get quick cranky in the hour or so before bedtime! You’ll still have naps at school through preschool and the first couple of months of kindergarten. The nap in kindergarten is pretty short. Since it takes you a while to fall asleep, I think that you’ll probably just be resting during that nap time! I’ll be glad when you can handle a skipped nap more consistently.

We have had several smaller trips since the cruise. We went to the mountains with Earl and Michelle. We spent a few days in a cabin in the Blowing Rock area. One of those days, we spent at Tweetsie Railroad. I had been to Tweetsie when I was about Maddie’s age, so I was excited to take the two of you. It hasn’t changed much, but it has been well maintained. I’ll admit that we had low expectations, and Tweetsie well exceeded them. It was a great day. You rode some of the more tame rides and especially enjoyed driving the cars.

We made our first trip to Great Wolf Lodge with Melissa and Jason. We visited the one in Concord since it was the closest location and is close to Nana and Papa. You opted to avoid the bigger slides, but you rode one of the smaller ones (once). You spent a lot of time in the kiddie splash area while Maddie rode the big slides with adults. You and Maddie both loved watching the big bucket dump tons of water on people. You loved the activity pool with the basketball nets, and you both enjoyed the wave pool.

Outside of the water park, we had a blast playing MagiQuest for the first time. MagiQuest is a game where each person has a special magic wand. You run around the hotel pointing the wand at special objects in a sort of treasure hunt to find artifacts and clues. That was fun (and exhausting) for everyone. The adults joked that it was a tricky way to get us all to exercise since a lot of stair climbing and walking back and forth was involved! You and Maddie loved getting ice cream treats. We didn’t tell you where we were going until the day before we left. Before that, we revealed only that we were going to a “special place.” While we were at Great Wolf Lodge, you said, “I didn’t know this special place would be so awesome!” I think it’s safe to say that our family will be making more trips there in the future!

We spent the following weekend, which was July 4th weekend, at Edisto with Melissa and Jason. Once again, we had a fabulous time in Edisto! We left wishing we could come more often. We spent some time at the beach both mornings, and we took a side trip to Botany Bay at sunset for the views and shells. It’s so much fun to watch you and Maddie at the beach. You two love it so much! We were worried that the trip would be cancelled because Hurricane Arthur threatened the coast just before the trip. Thankfully, the storm passed before we left and did not cause any damage.

Another highlight of our weekend was picking blueberries at their house. You cracked me up when I asked if you wanted to eat some blueberries. You had a whole cup of blueberries that you had just picked, and you said, “oh, let me get a fresh one” and picked a new one off the bush. I guess the ones you picked two minutes prior weren’t fresh enough! Another funny moment happened when we were at the beach. You alerted us that you needed to potty. We explained that there weren’t any potties, but if you needed to pee, you could do it right there in the ocean. You looked at me like I had lost my mind, “Here?!?” We explained that this was a special ocean rule. You thought we were totally crazy when we explained that you also shouldn’t pull down your pants in front of everyone. “You want me to pee in my pants?!” I can understand the confusion, given all of the time we have spent trying to get you to do this in the proper place.

After the fun trip to Edisto, we’re really looking forward to going to the beach at the end of summer. We’re going back to Ocean Isle in North Carolina which we visited two years ago. We had a wonderful little family vacation that time, so we are excited to return. After the successful trip to Great Wolf Lodge, we thought it might be fun to meet family at the Cincinnati one in November when we go to Kentucky. We have quite a few fun little trips this year!

Daddy and I have each had some trips without the family as well. We took Maddie’s little Koala buddy on our adventures, and you and Maddie were amused by Koala’s adventures. Koala is tiny, so he’s convenient to carry around with us on our trips. I went to Key West with a couple of girlfriends in May for a long weekend, and I went to San Francisco for a week for work. Daddy went to Las Vegas with Grandma to visit your Great Grandma for a few days. You and Maddie have fun when one of us is out of town, as you get to do some special things. Daddy always makes giant forts when I’m out of town. When Daddy is out of town, we often go to our favorite restaurants. Nana and Papa came for a short visit while Daddy was in Vegas.

Just before Nana and Papa came to visit, I told you and Maddie that they had just celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary. Immediately you said, “Ewww! I don’t like to talk about people getting married! They have to KISS ON THE LIPS!” You have asked Daddy and I several times if we kissed on the lips when we got married. This is how you think that humans marry. Apparently, dogs marry by rubbing cheeks. Maddie said she never wanted to get married, though she alternatively wants to marry you. You agree to this sometimes. This time, you said that you were going to marry me when you grow up. Maddie said, “Um, no, Cullen. I don’t think so. When we grow up, our parents will be dead.” Um, thanks kids! I think both of you don’t want to get married so that you can stay at home with us forever.

We’ve had some other visits from family. Nana, Papa, Aunt Kristin, and Uncle Chad came to visit a few weekends before Easter for the MS Walk. We had some Easter fun while they were here. We dyed eggs, hunted for eggs, and then we smashed eggs in the driveway. This has become a little bit of a tradition with our family! Grandma and Grandpa came to visit over Easter weekend. They brought your cousin Dylan and his girlfriend, Morgan (who we all call “Mogo”). We had a very nice visit with them. You especially had fun playing Ninjago spinners with Dylan. You love when family visits.

We have had more adventures at the theater with a Hansel and Gretel play, Pinkalicious: The Musical, and Sid the Science Kid Live. The first one was for your kid book club, and the others were family outings. We have a great time with our family outings. Other than The Lego Movie, we also saw How to Train Your Dragon 2 when Nana and Papa were in town. We all enjoyed it, and we’ll have to show it to Daddy when it comes out on DVD. We recently had a magic themed book club meeting, and we read Magic at the Bed and Biscuit to you and Maddie. Last weekend, our family went to see Marvel Universe Live, an event that is similar to Disney on Ice but without the ice and with superheroes instead of princesses. It was a bit cheesy, but you and Maddie seemed to enjoy it. You reenacted several of the scenes when we got home. You are very excited about superheroes, and currently you want to be Superman for Halloween.

You still wake up before the rest of the house. Some mornings, you happily find your own things to do. You often help yourself to your “breakfast toast” (organic breakfast pastries, which you prefer to have as your breakfast every day) or random snacks. If we’re not careful about where we leave crackers or chips, then we’ll find that you’ve been eating them for breakfast. Most of the time, you end up coming into our room over and over, asking if it’s time for us to wake up yet. We refuse to get our day started until “the clock starts with 7,” and we try to snooze a bit longer on weekends! We’ll ask you to go get yourself dressed for the day to buy ourselves some time. This usually gives us a few minutes, but you’re fairly fast about getting dressed. These days, you don’t care what you wear. You’ll pick the first shirt and the first pants that you can find. Sometimes, we make you change as you’ve picked a long sleeved shirt on a 90 degree day or a red plaid shirt with blue plaid shorts. We aren’t too strict about what you wear, but we can’t send you to school with some of your choices! Sometimes, you opt to wake up Maddie, and we can hear the two of you playing together in the living room. Many days you play nicely together, but other times one of you comes in every 2 minutes complaining about something the other did to them. Those mornings aren’t fun for Daddy and me!

The best part of the morning is when we are all getting into the cars and getting ready to go to school. Once you’re buckled in, you always insist on telling Daddy and Maddie goodbye. I usually take you to school while Daddy takes Maddie to school. You always say, “Bye bye, Daddy, I love you, I hope you have a good day at work.” You tell Maddie the same thing, “Bye bye, Maddie, I love you, I hope you have a good day at school.” It’s very sweet, and you get upset if you don’t have the opportunity to say your goodbyes.

We talk about a variety of things on the way to school. You often make up stories, which is something you and Maddie do often. You tell each other things as random as, “and then I was a monster and you were a giraffe and ….” You two can go back and forth doing this for a while. You also like to say silly things that don’t always make sense. You’ll say things like, “What if you lived on the roof of that barn?” You like to start a lot of these “what if” scenarios. Sometimes, you tell me how to get to school, and this is a sneaky little way that you’ve learned your left and right. We listen to music, and you often have specific requests and want to know the name of the song or the band that is playing on the radio. You’ve always been very interested in music, and I’m curious to see how you’ll like music lessons that you will be taking in the fall.

It is fun to hear you tell stories and talk about things. Of course, often you’re talking endlessly about video games or super heroes or TV shows. I don’t always want to hear all of those details (especially when I’m trying to get you to settle at night to go to bed, and you really want to tell me “one more thing” and it’s about how Sensei Wu did something interesting on Ninjago). You have an extensive vocabulary, and you have a lot of big words like humiliating, ridiculous, tragedy, antagonize, hilarious, eventually, concentrating, distracted, and fabulous. There are many more words that I don’t even notice since you’ve always been fairly advanced with your language expression. One of your favorite words is disgusting, though you’ve lately resorted to the typical “potty” words like “butt” and “diarrhea.” Until recently, we’ve always said “bottom” instead of “butt,” so I think you’re amused that you’re not getting into trouble just for saying it. You push those boundaries, though, and we have to remind you that we don’t like the potty talk.

You often ask us if we can take you to lunch at school, and I’m sad to say that we don’t take you as often as you would like. We do try to take you to lunch every few weeks or so, and it’s always a special experience for you. We sometimes see other classmates in the cafe and sit with them. If we’re not sitting with classmates, you usually insist on sitting near the pianist. You almost always get an octopus dog (a hot dog cut so that it curls up with legs like an octopus) and a variety of fruits and vegetables from the salad bar. You’re a great eater lately. You love eating tomatoes, grapes, blueberries, cucumber, lettuce, lo mien, mac and cheese, grilled cheese, carrot sticks, broccoli, pea pops (frozen peas), and chocolate.

As a special treat, I took you and Maddie to Krispy Kreme for fresh, “hot now” donuts. I enjoyed it as much as you and Maddie did! It was fun to see you and Maddie taking in the donut conveyor belt and the sugar waterfall as the donuts made their way down the line. You each had a hot, glazed donut and a chocolate one with sprinkles. One of our favorite family treats is either frozen custard at Goodberry’s or frozen yogurt with custom toppings at any number of frozen yogurt places in our area. You always get chocolate with sprinkles at Goodberry’s and chocolate with various toppings at the frozen yogurt places. You and Maddie especially like to get popping bobas, which you know from Grandma and Grandpa’s bubble tea. I’m not sure that fruity popping bobas are a good combination with chocolate, but you and Maddie think it’s the best thing ever.

Some big changes are coming for you in your classroom at school. The graduates in your class are moving off to kindergarten. The year round kids have already left, and some traditional kids will be leaving soon. Some are taking vacations with family before school starts. Austin has left the class for a few weeks. You are adjusting pretty well to these changes, though I know you miss your buddy. You and Blaise have been playing together a lot more (though we have had to have some talks about how to be a “good friend”). You are excited that you will be a graduate or “french kid” soon. As a graduate, you’ll have special privileges in the classroom including graduate work. You’ll also have special art class and french.

We have gotten together with Austin’s family a few times for dinners and playdates, and we hope to continue to do that. Sometimes, we’ll let the four of you kids (Austin, Elizabeth, Maddie, and you) sit at a table by yourselves. That can get a little crazy, so we’ll often have you and Austin sit with the adults and leave Maddie and Elizabeth at their own table. I think you don’t always think this is fair, but lately the girls just sit at their table and draw and chat quietly. You and Austin are much more likely to get crazy, so we like to have you closer to the disciplinarians. After dinner, we let you guys run crazy outside, if possible.

You’ve been fairly healthy in the past 6 months, though you went through a series of stomach bugs or general tummy troubles. We weren’t sure what was going on, but you had a hard time shaking it. Most of the time you had “potty issues” (but thankfully not a lot involving accidents). At least three times in a couple of weeks, you threw up in the middle of the night on your bed. The first night that you threw up in bed, you came down and said, “Mama! Dada! I barfed all over my bed. It was the biggest barf ever in the whole wide world.” It’s a little funny to us now, but it was not a funny way to wake up in the middle of the night! I’m glad you’re feeling much better lately!

We have a good life, little boy. You’re a happy boy who loves his family, often goes to bed with “buddies” (stuffed animals), hugs and kisses very sweetly, and loves your Mommy more than anything. You love being silly and value silliness in your friends. You laugh often. You love playing outside, riding your bike (with training wheels), acting like a superhero or ninja, and don’t mind having tea parties and playing My Little Pony with your sister. You love being read to, and you’re loving learning how to read. You love Legos, dinosaurs, and dragons. You love playing games of all types.

I love you more than you could possibly imagine, and I love you more every day.


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