Category Archives: Birthday letter: Baxter



This year the words are caught in my throat before I even start to put them down on the page.


Baxter, you are amazing. Here you are now, a senior in high school, deep in the college application process. Writing and editing essays has taken up a fair amount of your time this fall. Somehow, before the last of the snow eventually thaws, we’ll know with some certainty where you’ll spend your next several birthdays.

But even as you plan for your next steps you are also steeped in life. You are happy in your friendships, old and new. You’re engaged in your classes, excitedly sharing details about what you’re learning in the evenings. You’re especially loving Psychology and Zoology right now, ever broadening your love of the sciences.

These days we chat about everything: past, present, and future. Last week we talked some about your early years, and the conversation turned to your abiding love for and deep expertise about dinosaurs back when you were little, which prompted a plan for me to bring all your old toy animals home from my office. You couldn’t believe I still had them, those toys we played with for hours on end for years. You still have the original three?! you asked excitedly. They are on your bed now, your name in faded red Sharpie on the belly of each one, waiting for you to come back from Dad’s.  Like me, they remember you bringing them to preschool at UCSF and then teaching your kindergarten class all about them in your first year of school.  They too seem shocked to discover that you are in your last year of school, but we’re all trying to play it cool.

I watch now with wonder as all the most prominent early characteristics of your personality reemerge so clearly after a few quiet years of adolescence. As easily as I see the bright and exuberant little boy you once were, I can also see the kind, hilarious, and thoughtful adult you are becoming. I have always been proud to be your mother, but perhaps never more so than at this moment.

This last year with you at home is a gift, Baxter. Thank you for being born all those years ago, and for being great company all along the way. When the time comes for you to head off to college next fall, I’ll surely be sad for me but very glad for the place you’ll create in the world. Wherever you end up, the world is so lucky to have you.

Happy 17th Birthday, Sweetheart.


Mom (& the original three*)

*which might be the original two + an interloper but I’m working on it!



This is Sweet [Smart, Funny, Handsome] 16


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!

Fifteen. That’s right.


Dear Baxter,

Today you are 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



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



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.



Eleven is Heaven

Dear Baxter,

I’m not entirely sure how this happened, but I find myself celebrating your eleventh birthday today.

On one hand, the years since you were born have, quite literally, flown; on the other, you often seem so far beyond your years that I feel you must be older than this. You and Lyle like to tease me for introducing you to someone as my “11-year old son, Baxter” back in April. And of course I’m sorry about that, but you have to understand that even as a tiny baby your doctor once referenced your chart in the middle of an appointment to check your birth date because you seemed to be bigger and more mature than he expected of a 6-month old. “Did he skip an appointment?”, he asked, laughing incredulously. So it’s not just me, you see.

Baxter, I love to see the world through your curious, logical lens. Your favorite dinner conversation, the kind that lights you up, is a math problem. You and Daddy frequently geek out at the end of dinner, with you running to get paper and a pencil to work something out. Some nights you bring home a brain teaser to see if any of us can complete it. (I never can.) You told your extended family that the highlight of your upcoming week will be the day you get to go to Advanced Math. And science? You love it all. You intend to be a zoologist someday and you went to sleep last night with a new animal encyclopedia open on your chest, a treasured birthday gift from Oma and Pops.

But there is more to you than your strong left-brain dominance – oh, so much more. You are sweet and sensitive, good with younger kids (including your own brother, which I thank you for), and a truly kind soul. You think of other people, asking me, for instance, how my day was. Recently, when you woke me during the night, you asked with great concern the following morning if I’d ever gone back to sleep.

Baxter, you have your challenges just like the rest of us, but you have a song in your heart. You sing and hum all day long – while reading, while walking, while taking a shower. You don’t even know you are doing it most of the time. Your Oma does the same thing. This year you decided to discontinue playing the flute and switched to choir. This seems right.

You read. You read and read at a pace your speed-reading mother never imagined possible, completing the hugest of books overnight and recalling minute details. In fact, I was so blindsided by your love of reading from the time you were a small toddler that it took a teacher to point out to me that math and science were your true loves. I’m still a little shocked a few years later.

I adored you as a baby, toddler, and small boy, but Baxter — eleven is heaven. It truly  is. You are still engaging and funny, and now you also get the grown-up stuff. We stifle giggles about the little kids in the carpool, and we share a love for NPR shows we listen to on podcast together like Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, Car Talk, and Radio Lab. Our taste in music is so similar I’m spooked sometimes when I’m about to turn up the volume on a song in the car and you say from the back seat, “Can you please turn this up? I love this song!” On every album we like (everything from Copland to REM to The Decembrists and Alexi Murdoch), we share the same favorite tracks. It’s uncanny. You love The Onion and political jokes – you have a strong interest in politics in general. When The New Yorker arrives you read all the cartoons but always flip to the caption contest first. You have read the recent Dear Mountain Room Parents Shouts & Murmurs essay to every person who has ridden in our car in the past couple weeks, killing yourself laughing over all the best parts. “Fanta!” you hoot. You keep that issue in the back seat, just for fun.

You are old enough to want to comb your hair some days before school, but young enough to bounce excitedly into the kitchen to show me how it looks. Old enough to preen before the mirror in new clothes but young enough to wear them out in the back yard in Michigan and let your brother and cousins tackle you to the ground and sit on you, grinding them into the dirt.

We were recently talking a bit about what we believe in. You immediately rattled off a list so compelling that I stopped to write it down. Here’s what you told me: “Peace, love, awesomeness, and impossibilities.”

Yes. You did.

You are a child of my heart and I love you and your earnest, full-of-life self more with each passing year. Happy 11th Birthday, Baxter.




Happy Birthday to the sweetest of sweet 9-year olds!  You’re the coolest ever.  I love you, Baxter.

Love, Mommy   xoxoxo

Out on the Town: Age 8

You all know by now that I have perfected the half-assed birthday party for kids.  However, after a blow-out 4th birthday party for Lyle in August, one that used up every ounce of party-planning expertise and dollar we had to our names, the idea of throwing any kind of organized fiesta for Baxter and his ever-expanding group of friends made us quiver in fear, gripping our checkbook.  And when he suggested that it was going to be a Pokemon party this year, I knew something had to be done.  Fast.

Enter the New Deal of birthday parties.  The Next New Thing.  We proposed that he invite just one friend for a full day of big kid fun on the town, things we have never done before and that only wise old 8-year olds get to do.  And the most amazing thing happened: he agreed.

Now, I will admit that a few days later there were some tears.  Baxter claims that I didn’t tell him this big adventure was in lieu of a big party, but that’s a simple case of not hearing what we don’t want to hear.  He pulled himself together and asked, “Will there still be lots of presents on the table at breakfast from you and Daddy and Lyle on my birthday?”  It’s really all about the presents, so you know what that means for our future – more presents from us and fewer parties. No problem.

The stars, moon, and planets aligned.  Matt’s parents were willing to take Lyle overnight and his cousin M was willing to go with him and have a special cousins weekend, so Lyle was not focused on what he was missing at home.  He had a wonderful time with his cousin.  Baxter’s best friend happened to be available the day we had set aside for this, with just two weeks notice.  And it all went off without a hitch.

First, we took the boys to the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor (top floor) of the John Hancock Building.  Here you don’t pay for the view, just a drink and snack (or lunch, in our case).  We played I Spy among the skyscrapers until our eyes glazed over.  Caught up in the big kid adventure thing, I allowed Baxter to order a Pepsi with lunch for the first and last time.  I haven’t seen him so hyper since he was 3 1/2.

Our next stop was the Museum of Science and Industry, a gorgeous place we had not yet seen since moving here.  This is a rather pricey museum, but a good friend of mine checked her library for the Museum Pass a couple days before and was able to get one for me, so we went for free.  (I told you, Chicagoans are outrageously nice.)  This was great fun for all of us, and of course the hands-on nature of the exhibits made it perfect for the boys.  However, Matt and I agreed that age 8 is about the minimum age to really get something out of this place, because the kids still ran from one thing to the next, trying it out without actually stopping to read what it was about or learn something from it.  I can see as a destination that will be more fun as the kids get older, and might be a good place for teenagers.  But we covered the whole building and it was a huge hit.


After these big outings, Matt and I were happy to head home.  The kids were each handed an iPhone for the 20-minute car trips to and from downtown so that they could intensify their obsession with the new Jelly Car game.  We concur that Jelly Car is pretty rad – and the music’s not half bad, either.  We brought Mexican food home for dinner and the boys watched a Pokemon movie after dinner.  Baxter’s bedtime was a good two hours later than  usual, leaving him decidedly less hyper the following day.

Baxter was really blown away by the day he had, and we enjoyed it so much.  I suspect it will be far more memorable to him than if we’d had a bunch of kids over to play Pin the Tail on Pikachu.

Dear Baxter,

You asked for “a haircut” and “good marks on [your] report card” for your birthday.  Your fascination with the political process in general and the electoral college in particular has been heartening this year as we consider all that you have to offer the world as you grow up.  You have lots of good friends and are liked and appreciated by adults and children.  The way you seek out babies and toddlers and play so joyfully with them, even when kids your age are waiting for you to play, makes your kid-loving mama so happy.

When you got your flu shot yesterday, you actually got out of the car to go into the pediatrician’s office.  You also read your book until the last possible second without making a fuss.  Okay, so maybe I had to lift you up a bit to get you to sit on that table, but at least the nurse didn’t have to pick you up from the floor by your pants this year, giving you a wedgie. On our way into the office, you reminded me that the wedgie was a lot worse than the shot itself back when you were six.

And that’s just it.  You aren’t six anymore, or even seven.  Today you are eight.  That’s a pretty big number, Baxter.

Eight years ago you were born and I became a mother.   You are an incredibly loving, sweet, curious and earnest child.  I have loved these years of your early boyhood and recognize that you are on the verge of older childhood. This year will bring growth and much change for you once again, but I know that the essential you-ness will always be there.  And that’s all I need.

Happy Birthday, my 8-year old.  I love you.

Dearest Three-Year-Old Baxter

Dearest Three-Year-Old Baxter,

In an effort to continue the tradition of writing a letter to you on each birthday, I am sitting here thinking over the past year, eager toImage share my thoughts about it. I am sorry that we didn’t write letters to you last year, but we’ll always do our best and I hope you’ll end up with more than 2!

When I think back one year ago to your second birthday, I am amazed by all the changes in you. Although you seemed so big to us then, now it feels like you were still a baby; this year you really are a big boy…a kid! And you are absolutely brimming over with personality, just as you have been since the day you were born!

This has been your first full year of living in San Francisco, at 1441 6th Avenue. You seem to really love city life: watching people and cars come and go out our front window, greeting neighbors on the sidewalks, stopping in at the corner store to say hello to Sam or Cathy as you pass by on your way to someplace fabulous. You love to ride the N-Judah train whenever you can, and walks through the neighborhood are always fun for you. Special events are going to Park Chow for a meal (or just hot cocoa!) and getting delicious scones and muffins at Arizmendi Bakery. You often think you want to walk when we go out but then ask to be carried, so we usually take you in the jogging stroller. I often think of you as a king in his chariot, being wheeled around the neighborhood!

It was a tough year for us in some ways, this being your official “Terrible Twos” Year; you are a very physical, headstrong and stubborn boy and often gave us a run for our money in the area of discipline! For the first half of this past year you were still doing a lot of hitting and pushing with other kids, but that gradually subsided as you got closer to three. Now you hardly do that at all, and Daddy and I are very happy about that! In the meantime you had a lot of time-outs, which none of us enjoyed! I often wish we had an indoor playground in the house because you always crave so much physical activity.

However, most of the time it was a very joyful year. You have continued to emerge as a very talkative, friendly, enthusiastic, and funny child who makes Daddy and me laugh and laugh and laugh! Almost every night when you go to bed, no matter how tough the day might have been with you, we sit down and tell our best stories about you from the day and just laugh ourselves silly. It is so much fun to watch how you learn about the world and what you think about what you see. You are so good at communicating your thoughts and ideas that we get a good picture of how you see things, which is always fascinating. Without a doubt, you are a very bright boy and you learn very quickly. As you are turning three, you’ve already nearly mastered a big 24-piece floor puzzle, you recognize some words when you see them, and you are very interested in numbers and counting (and adding!). You shock us with your wonderful memory – you can pull events and experiences out of your memory from a full year ago! You are always thinking, thinking, thinking. Oh, and did I mention that you ask a million questions a day?! It’s exhausting, but I’m proud of your endless curiosity. Here’s an example of a conversation with you right now:

Baxter, holding up a toy: Do you like this elephant, Mama?

Mama: Yes, I do!

Baxter: Which elephant?

Mama: The one you’re showing me, that you just asked me about!!

Baxter: Why DO you like it?

Mama: Because it’s big and gray and reminds me of the ones at the zoo.

Baxter: Which ones at the zoo? At the San Francisco Zoo?

Mama: Yes, that’s right.

Baxter: When DID we go to the zoo?

Mama: I don’t know, when did we?

Baxter: When did we? Was it tomorrow?

…and on and on and on…

You are a very good eater, and like a lot of fruits and some veggies now. You are also sleeping well, going to bed around 8 and getting up by 7. You still take a 2 1/2 hour nap each day and we thank you for that!

You have a great time with your friends these days, and you certainly have a lot of them! At UCSF preschool (where you just started in September), you love to play with Noga, Mateo, Ella, Hue-sin, Ben & Benjamin, and Zoe (among others!). At home, we see Jack all the time, in addition to Jake, Eliana, Lyle, Lucy, Isabella, Althea, Luzius, and lots of other buddies. We had your birthday party at Acrosports last weekend and today Daddy and I are bringing cupcakes for a party at preschool with your friends there. We’ll probably take you out for dinner afterwards, which you always enjoy!

I left my job at Oak Hill School in June so that I could stay home with you full-time. I was missing you so much when I was at work, and my job was taking up too much of our family time. So instead of Daddy and me both working part-time, now I’m home with you every day and Daddy works every day. I know you really miss Daddy and all the special time you had with him during the week, but you guys have a great time together in the morning and at night before bed. And you get loads of special time on the weekends. I feel so lucky to have this time with you; I tell everyone that you are a really fun kid to hang out with all week, and it’s certainly true. You and I do lots of fun things together, like going to the Zoo, the Discovery Museum, the Academy of Science, tons of parks and playgrounds, the Arboretum, and Sara’s story hour at the library. We are always social and playing with other kids and their parents during the week. When you don’t know the plan by breakfast time, you always come running into the kitchen, asking, “Mommy, what are we doing today?” You and I both love to be on the go and with other people – we’re a great pair!

It has been another fun year with all of your family as well. We see Nana and Papa often, and Uncle Dana and Auntie SJ are often stopping by and sometimes babysitting, too. We had a wonderful week-long trip to Libertyville to see Oma and Pops and all the rest of Daddy’s family there last July – you had an excellent time and said you didn’t want to come home to San Francisco! Oma and Pops came to visit us here in October and will be back for Thanksgiving; they love you so much and can hardly stand to wait for their visits with you. You are very excited that Cousin Billy was born this year and you were very sweet when you met him last summer. Auntie Crissy was just here with Katie – they came for your birthday party and you guys had a great time! You are such a lucky boy to have lots and lots of family who love you to pieces and do nice things for you all the time.

I just can’t believe you’re 3 years old already. I am really looking forward to sharing this year with you and watching as you learn and grow even more. I love that you are getting so big and can do so much, and I hope I never forget what a joy you have been as a baby and toddler.

I love you always, sweetheart,


[Original can be found in Baxter’s baby book; added to blog in 2013.]