This is Sweet [Smart, Funny, Handsome] 16

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One day you wake up to find that your adorable little guy has become an adorable big guy – one who still wears braces but has begun to trade his signature glasses in for contacts. And sometimes, when 16 is hanging out with his friends, he might just have a llama on his head. For, as the kids say, Reasons. We don’t need to know more than that. It’s better that way.

It turns out that 16 is a junior in high school. Let that sink in for a moment: junior. In high school. And he’s wicked smart and funny and oh-so-quick with the wit. 16 makes his mother hoot with laughter on the regular, especially when he catches her saying something lame and repeats it, following it up with, “– Jordan Sadler, 2016, Ladies and Gentlemen”.

16 is in his room a lot less these days, but that’s mostly because he’s out somewhere with his friends, riding in shopping carts and god knows what other shenanigans. When you come home from work in the midst of 16’s birthday celebration, you will be greeted with the Hamilton soundtrack blasting, noisy kids hollering to each other, empty chip bags, and several games strewn around the house, abandoned in favor of singing and dancing.

The days with 16 at home are starting to feel numbered. Another year and a half of seeing his adorable face day in and day out, and then off he’ll go. But these days are even more fun than any others that came before them (impossible! you say, but no – it’s true), and you soak them up like crazycakes.

It’s not an easy time in the world, but 16’s light shines bright, leaving the rest in the shadows, which makes me the lucky one. Happy Birthday, sweet Baxter. I love you to the moon and back!

12

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Dear Lyle,

It seems that now you are 12. Holy cow. What does that mean for you?

For starters, 12 is big. Tall. With long legs that seemed to stretch all summer long; in fact, you felt them growing. I wonder if you’ll remember that.

12 is – like ages one through eleven before it – hilariously funny. I often say you were put on this earth to make me laugh every single day. You’re outrageous, or – as your Great-Grandma DB once exclaimed happily after sitting next to you at a meal – you’re a three-ring circus! 12 likes to sleep in my big bed on hot summer nights when the air conditioner is on, and say random things that make me laugh and laugh until I have to tell you to stop once and for all and go to sleep so that I, too, can sleep. 12 is always up for a back rub and a snuggle, and I’m happy to oblige, knowing all too well that a new season of development is just around the corner.

12 likes a challenge – novelty! Anything new is interesting and bears online research, much discussion, and learning more about. I love the curiosity you hold at age 12. On Tuesday your new math teacher taught you a math trick with dice, and the next thing I knew you were off researching dice and card tricks in your room and running out to demonstrate them. Before they were quite learned, mind you. Imagine this only looks like one card, you begin, clearly holding a whole stack of cards. It’s a lucky thing I have a good imagination. This morning I had to ask you to pause your new tricks so that you could eat breakfast.

Last weekend we made a pact at your request, promising that if either of us invented time travel in the future, we’d come back to that exact instant. You were eating pizza and grapes for lunch, and I was folding laundry. It seemed as good a moment as any to return to, and so I agreed. You began to glance furtively around the apartment, hoping, I then realized, that either your clone or mine would appear from the future to join us. I found myself hoping along with you.

But above all, what is new and different about this moment is that 12 is so very independent. 12 takes public transportation with ease and walked to a local park with a friend to swim last week. 12 has begun to go off into the neighborhood on solo adventures. I’m heading out for a bike ride, 12 declares after dinner, stuffing his keys and mobile phone into his shorts pockets. I’ll be back before dark. 12 grabs a basketball and calls out, I’m going to shoot hoops at the park! See you in an hour!

This is an absolutely lovely moment in time with you. You are on the cusp of even more wonderful changes as you begin 7th grade, and I am so grateful to be along on this ride with you. If I invent time travel in the future, I will welcome the chance to come back to visit you in this moment again and again. I’ll bring the deck of cards and a bike helmet.

I love you, sweetheart! Happy Birthday from the bottom of my heart.

xoMom

Fifteen. That’s right.

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Dear Baxter,

Today you are 15.

15.

Yeah, you know the drill: about five minutes ago you were a tiny baby, yadda yadda yadda. [Actually. Let’s be real. You were never a tiny baby, you were only ever a ginormous baby, but I forgave you for that long ago.]

I recall that you were six for a while, and for a blink of an eye you were nine years old this one time. [To be honest, though, it seemed like you were three and four years old for a really, really long time. Maybe more than all the other years put together. But we won’t worry about that.]

I think you jumped straight from age 9 to 15 but I’m not sure. Somewhere in the middle you got that expander and had super awesome buck teeth and I took a lot of photos because oh! those buck teeth! So fabulous. All I know really about the passage of time is that you shot up 4 inches in the past year and you are this 6 foot giant of a reed thin boy who is going to take Driver’s Ed in the spring and so it has to have gone by really fast.

And, as I’ve learned will always be true, you are only becoming more yourself as you get older. You’re that baby and that three year old [god help me] and that six year old and the nine year old and everything in between, just taller and wiser and funnier and even more handsome because there are no more buck teeth plus you have all that great hair and awesome glasses. I love to hear you sing weird songs and talk about Magic the Gathering. Laughing with you while watching the Republican debate last week was hilarious and gave me hope for the future of the country.

Thanks for always knowing how to unabashedly be yourself, for wearing a Pikachu hat to high school, and for always being cool without worrying for one second about being Cool. We could all learn a thing or two from you, Sweetie.

Happy Birthday. I love you. xoxoxo

The Blink of an Eye

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Once upon a time there were two little boys. So little. They became friends at age two, when their parents and I would do child care swaps, taking turns hosting a playdate before nursery school so that each week at least one parent had a few extra hours to get errands done or maybe just breathe.  Neither of the boys could properly pronounce each other’s parents’ names, and sometimes they even forgot each other’s names, if we’re being honest.  I remember giving out sticker incentives as they learned to pull on their own snow pants, hats, and tiny mittens, and striving to make a grilled cheese sandwich that would pass muster with a 3-year old who liked his mama’s sandwiches better and wasn’t afraid to say so.

And boy, did they have fun together. Playing with trucks and trains and big blocks, and on the rare occasion getting into a tiny bit of mischief. I can still see the two of them looking at me with huge innocent doe eyes, sitting under a table and shaking their heads earnestly, convincing me that they were of course not peeling all of Baxter’s Pokemon stickers from his treasured sticker book and dropping them one by one into the heating vent in the floor. What fun that must’ve been! Several years later, after sadly leaving another awesome play date, one declared that he was “born to play” with the other.

In our new apartment, the boys live a short distance from each other. They are big and responsible enough to take the El home after school together once a week without a grown-up, 10-year olds on a grand urban adventure. They head to one apartment or the other to eat a snack and play Wii, laughing and chatting for hours. I think they would still say they were born to play together.

There are parenting moments that go by so quickly you’d never believe it. One moment you are doling out colorful star stickers to tiny boys working so hard to put on their own mittens – oh, those awful thumb holes! – and in the blink of an eye you are looking at the same boys smiling broadly as they walk through a train station turnstile together after school and although you can just barely still see their baby faces in those expressions, you know you always will.

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Shadows & Light

Once upon a time I wrote here at The Wonderwheel with great frequency. The kids were small, I was new to Chicago, and I shared many a parenting roller coaster ride in this space. I’m so happy I did, because when I periodically return here and peruse old posts, selecting a month and year at random, I find so much that I’ve forgotten about the kids’ earlier years and my parenting experiences back then. I’m grateful for the time I took to write down what mattered to me.

Back in those days, I also made a lot of wonderful friends through blogging. We followed each other’s lives closely and offered true support to one other; though many of us were very occupied all day and we were scattered all over the nation, it was the virtual equivalent of a bunch of moms sitting together watching their kids play and grow up together, talking for hours. Over time, I met a great many of those amazing writer friends in person when one of us happened through each other’s part of the world, or when we all descended together on the annual BlogHer conference in New York or Chicago or San Francisco. I was never disappointed or surprised by who I found a virtual friend to be in person; when someone writes with her true voice you really do know her before you know her.

Many of us from back then still write, though some of us have moved to more private platforms as our kids have aged or because we have things to say that are not as appropriate for the public eye. The friendships have survived, either way, and the network of support that formed years ago holds fast. I am so grateful for it.

One of my very favorite people in the whole world is one such friend, the exceptional writer Kristen Spina. I’ve been lucky enough to spend weekends with Kristen every few years, on one coast or the other, and we are in touch almost daily. When Kristen was diagnosed with breast cancer just before Christmas one of the first things she did was to begin writing – and, lo, a blog was born. There we have had the privilege of reading what has been on Kristen’s heart and mind as she has ridden the sharp crests of denial, fear, and strong determination to this point. Now, just two days before her all-day surgery, Kristen is strong. And she is ready.

Today I’m asking this loving, supportive community – old and new Wonderwheel readers, Facebook friends, Twitter followers – to head over to Shadows & Light, where you can read Kristen’s beautiful, honest words. If you’re so inclined, help us support this fabulous woman in her journey by leaving little love notes of support, prayer, and positive thoughts.

We are all behind you as you head into surgery and recovery, my friend, whatever comes. You’ve got this, Kristen. I love you. xoxo

Fourteen.

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You know what nobody tells you when your kids are little? It’s this kind of amazingly magical secret thing, but kids become even better versions of themselves every year.

It’s like, you take all the great things about them, all these qualities that make your heart swell with love and pride when they’re tiny, and the great things don’t ever go away. The great things – get this – actually just keep growing.

Baxter, today you are 14. I want to let that sink in a minute: 14.

You may remember this as the year you started high school at Lane and kicked some serious freshman ass and made a bunch of great friends. Or maybe you’ll think of it as the year you and Lyle and I moved out of our condo in Rogers Park and then you and Lyle and your Dad moved back into it seven weeks later because it still hadn’t sold. While this is a truly bizarre fact, we are finding the humor in it. Like I said, it’ll spice up your memoir someday, or at least give you good fodder for therapy. I love when you do an impression of your future self trying to explain the transitions of these last couple years to someone; you take it in stride and already have enough perspective to see the humor in it.

But beyond all that, I want to remember the small things. The day to day with you. I want to remember the way you walked to catch a bus on your first day of high school with your arms outstretched to the trees, never looking back. I want to remember how well you tackled your initial anxiety over the transition to a school of 4,300 kids with a tight bell schedule, crowded halls, and a strict late policy. How you are finding your way all over this huge city, getting yourself to the orthodontist or a haircut after school on the CTA. How responsible you are, how you get your homework done well and on time so that I don’t even think about it. I want to remember that you wore your bright blue fleece stegosaurus hat – that hat I bought you in first grade, with the scales across the top and a long tail that draped down your back? – to high school the other day. That dinsosaur’s tail was a lot longer when you were six, let me tell you. You never fail to be comfortable being yourself.

I know I will remember how hilariously funny you are at 14 but I insist on writing it down here anyway. You are growing up on Jon Stewart and Monty Python, on Jim Gaffigan stand-up bits and Internet memes that make no sense. We began watching Arrested Development together last summer and you love to walk through a room dropping a line to leave me laughing in your wake. You tell me you do Gob Bluth imitations at the lunch table. Does anyone get the references? I ask, laughing. Usually not, you tell me, not caring. You went to school dressed as George Michael Bluth on Halloween but then switched to Annyong at night.

When I asked you in the car the other night if you and Lyle liked our new apartment as much as I did, you said quickly and earnestly, I do. I really like it. And then immediately followed this up with your uncanny impression of a lovestruck Luke Skywalker telling Princess Leia, I care. And when I howled with laughter over this quote done so perfectly (again), you even more hilariously compared my overreaction to Lucille Bluth’s explosion of laughter every time she sees Gene Parmesan, thereby making me laugh even harder.

You’re smart, you’re quick, you’re funny, and you’re a super great kid. You don’t give me a moment’s worry. I love you. Happy Birthday, Sweetheart.

Love, Mom  xoxo

Ten.

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Ten is whip-smart. He talks all day, sharing observations about his version of heaven and asking all the questions about divorce that other kids won’t ask and the sale of our house and something that happened five years ago. Ten wonders about and then remembers everything.

Ten loves big roller coasters and karate and his bike. He will swim all day if you let him. Ten will hop on a charter bus in a YMCA parking lot and head off to a new overnight camp out of state, not knowing a blessed soul, and have a great time. Ten wants as many gummy worms on his ice cream as humanly possible.

Ten is a loyal friend, especially if you are a similarly smart, cynical, and -underneath it all- very sensitive boy. Ten has no time for girls. He used to be shy, observed a neighbor this summer. Now he’s just selective.

Ten has a sense of style that’s all his own. This sometimes means a zip-up rainbow tie with a pink polo shirt. And madras shorts. With black high top chucks. All at the same time. Ten dresses with pride but don’t try to take his picture: he won’t have it.

Ten is beyond hilarious, leaving his family in stitches every other time he opens his mouth. Do you ever get tired of being random?, Ten recently asked me as he was falling asleep. No, I really don’t, I told him. Me neither, he replied happily.

Ten insists on bedtime cuddles, skinny little boy arms wrapped tightly around me as he falls asleep at night, usually right after lodging at least one heartfelt complaint about having to move out of his house or navigating parents who are split up or going back to school too soon. And then he wakes up smiling all over again in the morning.

Happy Birthday, Kiddo. Ten is amazing.

Bedtime

At their insistence she climbs nightly into the lower bunk, squeezed in with the younger one and complete insanity ensues. The kind where the high schooler is laughing so hard up above that he snorts several times and the 5th grader is his most outrageously hilarious self, making her cry with laughter. She tries to extract herself when it gets late but is held there by a small arm curled around hers and pleas to stay, promises that they’ll be quiet and go to sleep, and then within seconds a silly phrase and now another round: peals of screaming laughter reminding her of every raucous sleepover party she ever went to as a kid. Except these nights are even better because laughing like this in a bunk bed with her own two boys, there’s no grown-up telling them to stop.

My Son is So Very Charitable (Or Will Be Someday? Maybe?)

Lying in Lyle’s bed tonight as he bounced on his knees and flip-flopped like a fish on dry land (the after-effects of a lot of Thanksgiving soda and two slices of pie), I tried to shift the subject of conversation from how much allowance I owed him to what charity he would like to give his money to this Christmas. You see, each week I set aside a dollar for each of the kids and at some point in the year they can give it to the charity of their choice. It rapidly became clear, however, that Lyle didn’t exactly have a grasp on the definition of charity organizations, as these were the ideas he offered:

1) “The Army”. RationaleSo they can buy more guns! [Oh, swell.]

2) “Some Louisiana Fundraiser”. Rationale: Because it’s the state that starts with “L” like my name so it’s my favorite state! [Here his bouncing was accompanied by some old kindergarten song about how your left index finder and thumb make the letter “L” but I didn’t hear it clearly as I was beginning to bury my head under the pillow, wondering where I had gone wrong with this kid.]

3) “The Lyle Health Organization”. RationaleThey could give me some sort of chip that would let me get out of dangerous situations every time. 

4) “Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk”. RationaleIf someone really fat sits on the roller coaster and breaks it, they could fix it before I get there again.

5) “Activision”. RationaleThey make Skylanders. Maybe if I give them my money they’ll be able to create another figure.

Once he stopped listing his amazing ideas [believe me, this went on for a while, I just can’t remember them all] and I caught my breath from laughter and came out from under the pillow, he asked suddenly, “Well, then what IS a charity?”

I believe he landed on a local animal shelter, although I wouldn’t rule out his $52 ending up in Louisiana somehow.

Gratitude.

It was a tricky morning at our house. Typically on Fridays I try to keep my schedule light and open. After a very busy week, it’s the one morning I generally don’t leave early with the kids or start work early. I get to play June Cleaver on Fridays, wearing my bathrobe as I’m making the boys breakfast and packing their lunches before they get picked up for school; most of the time the boys are responsible for these things. But today I have a packed schedule and so I volunteered to drive all the kids to school since I was heading out early anyway. Which meant we were all rushing once again, and the kids were none too pleased.

Further, we don’t usually have to pack up for the boys to go to their dad’s until after school on the Fridays they are heading there, but the day had become complicated enough that we needed to take care of that this morning as well. Do you have your stuffed animals? Remember your clarinet – but I don’t have band! – but you will next week!! When it was time to be picking up the other kids and my boys still didn’t have their coats, socks, or shoes on, the fish hadn’t been fed, and we were generally in a very unready state, we all got a bit tense.

As we sat in the car waiting for the other kids to come out, we watched the rain slide down the windows and listened to Baxter’s 70s and 80s Pandora station. I looked at the kids and said, “Oh, man, I don’t think you guys ever brushed your teeth this morning, did you?” Both of them shook their heads a bit guiltily and I sighed a little.

And then Lyle, with a mischievous grin, threw my own words back at me, declaring, “Well, like you always say, we should be grateful for what we do have!” I laughed with him about it, but then we did just that. Listing all that we had managed to accomplish between 6:15 and 7:30am, our moods shifted. We’re all showered and dressed…we ate…we all have lunches…the pets got fed…we packed your bags for Daddy’s…homework is packed…we remembered that pillow left at the sleepover party for you to return at the 8th grade potluck tonight…two field trip forms are completed…and we aren’t even that late. The list was long and impressive.

How easy it is in this busy life to focus on the small mistakes, the things we’ve left undone, day in and day out. As we head into Thanksgiving week, this was a lovely reminder to be sure that what we say aloud isn’t always that one thing we got wrong, the small mistake, but instead to stop and be grateful for all that we have and all that we manage to do each day.