Thomas is heading to the Minnesota state finals for Poetry Out Loud!

Thomas McPhee placed first at the 2010 Poetry Out Loud Lake Regional in Fergus Falls, and will go on to the state finals in the Fitzgerald Theater on Monday, 8 March 2010. This is the fourth straight year that at least one student from the Morris Area High School has qualified for the state finals in Poetry Out Loud.

Award ceremony at the 2010 Poetry Out Loud regional, Fergus Falls, MN
Award ceremony at the 2010 Poetry Out Loud regional, Fergus Falls, MN. Thomas McPhee (on far right) took first.

Last night was the 2010 Lake Regional competition as part of the national Poetry Out Loud competition. Morris Area High School (MAHS) had two students in the field, Thomas McPhee and Tim Ostby, and Thomas took first place! He and Ellen Ferry (who took second) will be among the 18 students from around Minnesota at the state finals in the wonderful Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, starting at 9:30am, Monday, 8 March 2010.

Thomas qualified for the state finals last year (along with MAHS student Alex McIntosh), so we had the good fortune to attend last year’s event. The quality of the performances was really exquisite, and I highly recommend the event to any fans of poetry and literature in the area.

Tim Ostby (the other MAHS student this year) placed fifth at the regional. Congratulations to him and all the other students that performed last night! While there were fewer competitors at the regional than last year, the quality of the performances was considerably stronger, and the venue (A Center for the Arts in Fergus Falls) was vastly better than last year’s (a classroom at a regional community college).

Thomas McPhee, David Johnson, and Tim Ostby at the 2010 Lake Regional for Poetry Out Loud
Thomas McPhee, David Johnson, and Tim Ostby at the 2010 Lake Regional for Poetry Out Loud. Thomas took first, and Tim took fifth.

A huge thanks to David Johnson, drama coach and english teacher at MAHS. Dave’s been a huge influence and support for Thomas in both theatre and Poetry Out Loud. It’s greatly to Dave’s credit that MAHS has had a student in the state finals of Poetry Out Loud each of the last four years (which is every year MAHS could have competed), with two in last year’s finals. Further, every MAHS student that’s gone to state has placed in the top 6: Anika Kildegaard took 2nd in 2007, Mary Hu won the state competition in 2008 and went on to the National Finals, and Alex McIntosh placed 4th and Thomas McPhee 6th in 2009. In fact Morris is the only high school in the state to place four students in the top 6 from 2007-2009, with no other school has placing more than two. Not a bad track record for a small rural high school. Thanks a ton to Dave for all his support and assistance!

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On the occasion of someone else’s 16th birthday

Thoughts on the occasion of our song’s 16th. Happy Birthday Thomas!

Thomas with his parents in Toledo, Spain. June, 2007.
Thomas with his parents in Toledo, Spain. June, 2007.

Today is 16th birthday of our son: Thomas Sutherland McPhee.

16 years ago today, we were in Abbot Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis introducing a red, wrinkled little lizard boy to the world.

He was healthy but small (3 pounds, 12 ounces), and his size landed him in the neo-natal ICU for several weeks. We spent his first Chrismas in that NICU. Another family spent that day together behind a screen at the end of the room, saying goodbye to the last of a set of triplets. It was the only time we saw that child outside of its incubator, and the only time we saw the family hold it.

That day still shines bright, like my eyes when I think of it.

On my dresser is a photo of Tom at Thanksgiving when he’s two or three, eyes wide like his smile. To be honest, I don’t really remember the that kid. Those years have largely slipped away, turning into photos in an album.

No doubt more will join them.

But there’s so much I do remember. Places we’ve been. Things we’ve done. Pieces of who he is, assembling.

Reading together. Dr. Seuss. Haroun & the Sea of Stories. Early Harry Potter. Inkheart. Plenty of room between the trees.

Realizing that he’d somehow learned to read when no one was watching. (Still not sure how that happened.)

Realizing that reading out loud at night was just too slow. One of the first steps towards inevitable independence.

Walking together in our sabbatical year in Birmingham, talking about religion, and how eyes work. He was six or seven.

Writing songs and performing together. “Fat fly”, “Crab grass”, “Taco Man”. Open Mic. The Mutant Variety Show.

His wonderful attitude during the long series of rabies shots after The Bat Incident.

Our time in Italy. Gelato & pizza. Learning to spot annunciation paintings from a mile away. Deciding he’d seen about all the churches he needed for quite a while.

The family trip to Alaska. Climbing the hills around Polychrome Pass in Denali National Park; the wind cutting past us as we gazed out over that awesome valley. Celebrating Mac & Mutti’s 50th anniversary in Seward. His laughter, and grumpiness, and goofiness.

The way he made friends and settled in so quickly during both our sabbaticals in the UK. And the long hours on Facebook keeping up with his friends back home.

Our time in Spain. Going out for breakfast together in the morning. A wonderful day together in Madrid. “Guernica”. The “Black Paintings” of Goya. A day he planned.

Walking to school together talking about stuff, large and small. Waving at folks driving by.

Listening to music together. Discussing lyrics, and beats, and color. That high kid voice in our promo spots for the radio station, and the much lower voice I hear when listening to this year’s solo radio shows.

The many, many play performances. And band. And choir. And pretty much any opportunity to be on a stage.

6th in the State in Poetry Out Loud last year, and last year’s amazing One Act.

Dying your hair cool colors.

And so, so much more.

Today he’s sixteen.

He writes lines I would be proud to call my own.

He’s taller than his mother (but not yet taller than me).

He sings bass (or tenor – it all depends on the context).

He shaves, if not very often.

His room is a mess, but so is my office, so I’d best not throw stones.

He’s getting recruiting material from colleges, another sign that he won’t live in this house forever.

He’s old enough to drive, but not to go to the Doomtree blowout (and it’s not clear which he’d choose if it came down to it).

He cares. About the world. About others. About Making Things Better.

He’s our son, and a joy to have in our lives.

Happy birthday, Thomas. It’s been a fun and exciting 16 years, and we’re all looking forward to many more!

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