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.

13!

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Dear Baxter,

Once upon a time, on a beautiful, sunny November day in San Francisco, a gorgeous baby boy was born. He was big and strong and dove into the world, hands first, like Superman. Over the years he grew rapidly and brought so much joy to everyone around him, no matter where he went. He was curious and bright and chatty: a real “questiony guy”, as he described himself when he was three. He was also kindhearted and easy-going, with an open, non-judgmental perspective. He was a hard worker without being especially driven. He was also good company and had a killer sense of humor.

Today, on your thirteenth birthday, you are still all of those things; they are your core, the foundation of who you are and who you will always be.

But let me tell you a little bit more about who you are this year. Now, sweet boy, you are within an inch of my height. You have a dark mustache that you are very proud of and refuse to shave. Your voice is so deep that I continue to think Lyle is talking to a man in another room and I cannot figure out who it could be, until I realize once again with a start that it’s you. When your voice cracks, which it’s now doing less and less, you call attention to it in a light-hearted way, mimicking it, and laugh it off. Speaking of laughing, you are hilarious. Your sense of humor is quite sophisticated and your love of puns keeps us all smiling. You make fun of me, but gently, and in a way that allows me to laugh along with you at how ridiculous I am. We watch The Daily Show together and laugh ourselves silly. You continue to be most fascinated by science and math, and recently announced that you would be a particle physicist when you grow up. You had hoped to have your birthday party at Fermilabs, which we couldn’t quite pull off so Oma and Pops took you there for the day instead. Every time you talk about your trip there your face lights up. You have requested that our dear friend Michele make you “standard model of particle physics” cupcakes this year for your party (good luck with that, Michele…). I’d be lying if I said I knew what you were talking about much of the time – you’re light years ahead of me, kiddo.

Baxter, you are easy-going and positive. You don’t complain about school work or homework or other people.  If you ever make a face or say something mildly negative about someone I pay great attention, because it is that rare. You are weathering the storm of the high school search with good humor and without drama; you seem to know as well as I do that you’ll be just fine, wherever you go.

I know there’s a part of you that longs to stay 12, to be a kid for just a little bit longer before entering these teenage years. It’s true that the years ahead won’t always be easy, but no one ever promised that to any of us, not at any age, Sweetheart.  And I guess what it all comes down to, my wonderful boy, is that you really will be just fine wherever you go. I believe in you: your smarts, your smile, your even temper, your humor, your openness.

A couple years ago you declared to me that you believe in “peace, love, awesomeness, and impossibilities” and I still think of this often because I don’t think there’s a better way to move through the world than that.

As you enter your teenage years I wish you exactly that: peace, love, awesomeness, and impossibilities. I love you very much and always will.

Happy 13th, Baxter.

Love,

Mommy

Nine is Divine

ImageMommy? Wouldn’t it be cool if we discovered that this whole life we’re living was actually a dream? And then I’d wake up and hear a doctor say, “It’s a boy!” because it would turn out I’d been dreaming it the whole time I was in your tummy.

Happy 9th Birthday to Lyle, a boy whose keen intelligence, sharp humor and lovely sense of wonder make me see the world differently every single day.