Category Archives: down time



Beth, Jordan, Julie, Cara, Sara


Wherever, whenever we meet

there is love.

Gathering every year or two

we see our selves in each other’s faces

the reflection of younger features known so well from pictures

shared and reshared and texted at amusing moments

for years on end

until we see the young faces in the middle-aged

and can no longer tell the two apart

and we know it doesn’t matter anyway.

We see our own selves at 19 and 26 and 30 and 38 and 42

and, now: 47, 48.

In one visit everyone suddenly has BIFOCALS

and then eventually we’ve all upgraded to PROGRESSIVES

and each time someone ventures to share another change in her life

the odd CHIN HAIR or the first HOT FLASHES

or a HEALTH SCARE or a disdain for PROMPOSALS

someone else or four someone elses raise their hands

and say, Oh, yes – me, too, with that thing you shared. Me, too.

The funny texts from parents

and kids growing up awfully fast, with moody eighth graders being a real thing

that needs to be discussed at length

and one of us with a son about to leave for the college where we all met

each other’s faces

29 years ago

and that feels very, very eerie and wonderful.

There is love

and there is laughter, so much of it,

the kind that hurts your face

and your abs

and makes you run for the bathroom very quickly after age 40

and that requires you to find a box of Kleenex fifteen minutes into the visit

because at least three of you are already crying laughing and no one can breathe

and there’s something said about starting a podcast in which it’s all dead air

because of the incessant silent unbreathing laughter

and it’s not a visit until she needs to take her inhaler from all the laughing.

Which only happens with these particular friends.

We see our past and present selves all bound into one

when we look into each other’s faces

and we see the future as well,

one in which we will take trips

New Orleans, ASAP!

Mexico, for our 50th birthdays!

or just, you know, anywhere that lets us talk

so probably not a library or movie theater

and we talk about building a compound

for us all when we get old

to take care of each other

where there will be talking and laughter

amid the shared meals and care

and noisy chickens on the roof so we always have fresh eggs,

but we won’t hear them because we’ll all be a little deaf, she assures us.

And so we stand in middle age

or rather lie doubled over laughing in middle age,

tears streaming from our eyes,

our oldest truest selves revealed to us yet again

and seeing with gratitude

past, present, and future together

in each other’s lovely faces

and all it really means is

there is love.




Look Who’s Blogging!

Six years ago I started my first blog on the eve of Baxter’s first day of kindergarten. Now a mature sixth grader, worldly in the ways of school, he has started a blog of his own. Try and keep up with it if you dare: not only does my tween post frequently, but he changes its template and design at least once a day.

My Days with Lyle

A collection of recent quotes from Lyle, as culled from my own Facebook page.

Jan. 25, 2012 –

Lyle just walked through the room saying, “Mommy, I was going to name this Panda bear “Bimbo” because he makes really bad choices, but then I changed it.”

Jan. 24, 2012 –

Lyle: “Did you know that in Iraq the left hand is used for ‘Toilet operations’?? It’s true! I read about it in Culture!”

Jan. 20, 2012-

Lyle just appeared in only his underwear. “Me and Baxter are Sumo wrestling.”

Jan. 19, 2012-

Lyle to Baxter: “Why don’t you have some respect? How do you sleep at night??”

Jan. 11, 2012-

Lyle to me: “Who you callin’ an IMP, BIMBO??”

(After riotous laughter: “What’s a bimbo, anyway?”)

Dec. 25, 2011-

Lyle: “Mommy! This year I decided I’m gonna try to be good ALL YEAR and not just at Christmastime!”

Dec. 22, 2011-

Lyle is positive that a new-year-old baby could definitely balance on one of his fingertips.

Dec. 14, 2011-

Lyle & I are going to wrap a few gifts. He suggested we bring the dog in with us, “So he can give us feedback on which wrapping paper to use”.  Feedback!

Dec. 3, 2011-

Lyle has a plan to set up my laptop out on the sidewalk and sell printouts of people’s favorite pictures from Google Images. Mama’s little capitalist.


The Boys’ Room: Before and After

As I mentioned in my last post, I am on a de-cluttering junket around my house and cannot be stopped. I’ve known for a few weeks that the boys’ bedroom would be up next. Not only was I closing their bedroom door whenever anyone came over, but I was needing to close it when I was home alone so that I didn’t catch sight of it – it was that bad.

You see, it was more than Little Boy Detritus™ all over a floor that needed organizing. This room of theirs, on the main level of our duplex condo, had been our home office for years. We used that term loosely, primarily because the room held two desks. But, in reality, it was the room where we put things we didn’t know what to do with or simply weren’t dealing with. Online purchases to be returned? Throw that box in the “office”.  Kitchen countertop paperwork stuffed into a bag before a dinner party? Why not toss that in there, too? The door will be closed, who would know! When I did need a quiet place to work, I couldn’t really find the desk, so I set up shop with my laptop at the dining room table and had a makeshift office in that room. So when the boys asked last summer if we could move their bedroom into that room, we shrugged. It’s not like we were really using it, right?

Yeah, we were happy to oblige, only we cleared out furniture to make room for their bunk bed and then ran out of time. There were still bulletin boards on the wall near where my desk had stood, a large book case full of our books, and bags of unidentified paperwork. And so when we’d ask the boys to clean their room, there was only so much they could do – no real shelves or storage bins to be found.

Can you see now why this might’ve been a big problem?

Okay, so I will allow you to see some “before” pictures, only because I am so pleased with the “after” set. This is my view of their room from the hallway (basically from the entrance to our home) this morning while they were in the midst of playing with Bey Blades:

Scary, yes?

And here is the same view at bedtime tonight. Turns out, they have a rug!

Next – and this takes guts, Wonderfriends – here is one side of their room where we have given them no storage and haven’t cleaned out our “office” stuff in the 5 months since they moved into this room. I can only hope humility is my ticket to heaven here.

This always looks this way.

Well. The craziest thing happened. I spent about four hours clearing our things out of that corner, generating two bags of recycling and another carload for Salvation Army. I found old mail – Oh! There’s that J. Jill credit card that I swore (indignantly) over the phone I had never received! – and forms I filled out that apparently never made it to the kids’ school in 2010, among other treasures. Then I took out the old bookcase and replaced it with a storage unit I went to pick up from Target. Voila!

I can’t even see all the Bey Blades now. Miracles do happen!

There are still a couple things to take off their wall (overstuffed “officey” organizers, and I do use that term loosely) and some art we’ll put up, but that will wait until tomorrow.

Next up: the very large playroom downstairs! But first I need to gather my strength.

Summer Wanes

It’s been a glorious summer here in Chicago, and I ought to know: I haven’t left town since our mid-June family trip to my college reunion in Minnesota. Yes, we have stayed home all summer, catching up with local friends in between their trips to all corners of the earth, and serving as a stopover for families on long road trips, hugely enjoying seeing them on their way to faraway destinations. We had plans for this summer, all of which fell through; none dramatically, just in the ways that plans can fall through sometimes. And so here we were.

It was lovely, being here for long, warm summer days. In the end, it occurred to me that summer is exactly the time to stay home when you live here. Late winter is when I want to be far, far away, but summer? Flowers blooming, the neighborhood yards lush, the lake perfectly swimmable, fireflies glowing and cicadas buzzing into the evening. Why leave?

August was a quieter, calmer month for me. The kids were home more with their sitter, not requiring me to rush them to day camp every day with lunches and water bottles, swimsuits and towels. Many of my clients were on reduced schedules, allowing me to work three days in a row and take four day weekends all month. In the past, this is the month we’ve left town, in effect leaving at just the time when we could be home and relaxing. I’ve loved being home this year.

I’ve gotten some projects done around the house – cleaning out drawers and closets, setting up a budget for our family, and getting the boys on board with a set of expected household chores. But more importantly, the spaces in my days and nights have opened up my mind and creativity in new ways; I find myself with ideas that excite me about my work now and in the future. These margins in my days have also given me the energy to tackle the challenges we have had all year with our dog, and help us move in the right direction with him. We’ve made great strides with him in the past month. I’ve seen my friends often, and I found a yoga class I love, something I’ve been wanting to do for the past year. I also started swimming in the lake with a friend or two at least once a week at sunrise: now that is the best way imaginable to start a day. If yoga and sunrise swimming don’t leave you feeling zen and ready to take on the world, what will?

I can see the impact on my whole life when I have this extra time; indeed, the impact on all our lives. And I am managing to keep some blocks open in my schedule this year, something I was unable to do last year. That’s going to be time for me. Maybe I’ll swim, or go to yoga, or take a walk. I’ve arranged everything around those blocks of time: they’re non-negotiable. Because for so long, everyone else’s needs and wants have been non-negotiable, but what I needed came last time and again. Not because anyone asked me to put them last, but it was what I did.

And so the summer wanes. But this year I’m not scared of the fall routine, the full impact of demands at work that go from 0-60 in early September, because when I look at my schedule I see some days when instead of driving the carpool I will have time to run to the gym, and other days when I will be stopping home for lunch and a dog walk before seeing afternoon clients.

It’s become easier to shift the kids’ summer bedtime closer to their school bedtime this week because it’s getting dark earlier already; only last week that task seemed impossible. Their school supplies have been dropped off and we’ve seen their new classrooms. The sun comes up a bit later each day, and our sunrise swims – those that we may have left – will have to be timed just so. But I welcome the changing light and look forward to the golden trees and a new school year. And I welcome more days of this life that thankfully seems to keep spinning in sync with the amazing world we live in, year after year.

Sleeping in [My] Big Bed

For all their new big-kid independent ways, their “I’ll take care of this” and “Can I learn how to do that?”, these boys of mine are still, deep down, so young, so very attached.

Some months ago I promised that the next time Matt went out of town over a weekend, they could fulfill their deepest wish and sleep “in the big bed” with me, as they put it. Pleeeeaasse?? begs Lyle at least once a week, can’t we plleeeeeaaase all sleep in this bed tonight?

They’re snugglers, these boys. There is always a last-minute request – just at the moment when they accept that their books are being pulled from their hands and the lights really are going off – for one last snuggle.  Generally this means one boy clambering down from his top bunk and dive-bombing the boy in the bottom bunk with a request for me to somehow be in the middle.

They are not so small anymore. This sort of barely worked when they were one and five, but not at almost-7 and 10. Yet we do it anyway, until one too many flying elbow has come at me and I’ve hit my limit, or Lyle has lain on top of Baxter, nearly suffocating him, and Baxter has hit his limit. It’s not the least bit quiet and relaxing, but that doesn’t seem to be what they need. They are looking for closeness – physical connectedness – at the end of the day. And so, in their best dreams, this would go on all night.

I have needs, too, however. I learned very early on when Baxter was a baby that one of my needs is a good night’s sleep. Although both boys slept in our bed for a couple months when they were newborns, a very sweet time for us all, I could not continue to work effectively at my very active job with other people’s children if I was not sleeping well, and there was no reason they couldn’t be expected to achieve solo sleep. After a while we moved them to their own cribs and when they were older infants, employed a very challenging but eventually effective cry-it-out strategy. I need peace and quiet at night and I get it.

However, this weekend Matt is away and so I reminded the boys of my promise. I chose Saturday night for them to come sleep in my room, knowing that we had nothing important planned on Sunday so I wouldn’t be dragging myself around town all day. Of all the fun things they did all weekend, including dinner with friends, staying up late to watch the moon rise over the lake, flying a kite with more friends, riding the red line downtown to see a YoYo competition (which included buying cool YoYos and learning tricks on them), and ordering Chinese food for dinner, the thing they were most excited about was this “sleepover” in my room last night. Their anticipation was incredibly sweet.

We set ourselves up in the bed with one boy on each side and me, of course, in the middle. I stayed with them while they fell asleep, and fell asleep myself until the dog alerted me that it was time for him to go out. Much later I snuck back in under the covers between them. I loved this for a while, being aware of how grown up they are as each of them closed the gap between us and snuggled in with me. But soon, as they began to shift in their sleep, there were swift, sharp kicks to my legs (by feet the same size as my own) and one jab to the armpit (I’m not entirely sure how he managed that), and I realized that I couldn’t really turn over. At all.

And so at about 1AM I snuck out and slept in their bunk bed until Baxter woke at dawn and came looking for me. Clearly disappointed that I hadn’t spent the whole night with them, he asked if I could come back, and so while he read a book I drifted back off to sleep – except that he woke me at least three times between 5:30 and 6:30. Mommy, you snored!  (I may have mentioned that this was because I couldn’t turn over on my side at all. And, anyway, one snore is bothering you as you read your book HOW exactly?)  I finally sent Baxter out of the room to read in another room and I was able to doze a bit until Lyle woke up at 7. At this point, the dog, clearly confused by all the unusual nighttime comings and goings – and perhaps wondering why he hadn’t seen The Big Guy since Thursday – took his little stressed self  into my bathroom and vomited on the white rug.

As sweet as I find their desire for a “sleepover”, I think we’ll stick to the bedtime snuggling from now on. Please pass the coffee.

Nuts In a Nutshell: What We Do for Fun

I sat at the dining room table with the boys after dinner.

After Matt geeked out with 10-year old Baxter by teaching him to count in binary code during dessert, I remembered the TED Talk I had watched about Khan Academy, a website that is chock full of video tutorials and practice lessons in math, science, and the humanities. I pulled it up for Baxter and he jumped out of his seat when he saw the Introduction to the Atom lesson in the chemistry section. We watched the 20-minute college level intro lesson, Baxter pausing it periodically to fill me in on his extrapolations and theories based on what we were hearing and what he already knew. He was over the moon about the new information he learned. He then begged me to do a search for “coordinate planes” in the math section, one of his favorite topics, and each time filled in the answers a beat ahead of the instructor. When he was talking to Matt afterward, I clearly heard the words, “You know, a theoretical mathematician once said…” come out of his mouth. A moment later he turned to me and said, “I’m going to be a chemist someday.”

So this was going on to the right of me:

Quest for knowledge

Meanwhile, 6-year old Lyle brought me magazine after magazine, looking for permission to cut one to smithereens. In the end he sat to my left, determinedly cutting letters out of a New Yorker magazine to make a ransom note for his brother.

Quest for mischief

He has not quite completed it, but here’s what he’s got so far:

“If you want to see your toy ag–“

He has promised to finish it tomorrow morning; when your big brother is ready to play Wii, duty calls.

And there, in a nutshell, you have it: my boys. I couldn’t possibly love either one of them more.

Father’s Day in Review

It’s been quite a weekend! Friday was the kids’ last school day hour (thanks, strange CPS schedule) and this was followed by two class picnics at the park and a beach party we host every year for 6 other families who, like us, live on the far northeast side of the city and appreciate a serious NO MORE CARPOOLING celebration. Good times, for sure!

We “relaxed” yesterday by switching our kids’ bedroom (now upstairs) and our guest room (now downstairs), thanks to some major help from Matt’s parents. Nothing like moving huge beds and transferring two people’s clothing to a new room, not to mention the organizing required to make space in the big upstairs closet. Ugh. But now the kids sleep in their own bunk bed in the room next to ours, rather on the big guest room bed together, as they have done for some months, and our guests will have complete privacy downstairs with their own full bath. Plus also, I recycled 3 trash bags of school work that the boys have accumulated over the years. I call that a win-win-win. We took a nice break to enjoy a Father’s Day lunch with Matt’s parents.

Today we gave Matt a combination of lots o’ attention and lots o’ peace and quiet. First, the boys and I made an early pilgrimage to Metropolis Coffee and Flourish Bakery to put together a really nice breakfast in bed for him.


The kids presented him with homemade cards, clay artifacts, and gift certificates for meals they intend to make for him. Soon afterward, I swooped them off to the YMCA camp in Wisconsin that Baxter’s going to attend in August. We enjoyed exploring the camp Open House. Surprisingly, we were one of only 6 families there midday, probably because it’s Father’s Day, yo. This is the trip wherein I discovered that driving your kids 7 hours to Minnesota once a year has the added bonus of turning a 1.5 hour trip into what feels like a trip to the grocery store. “That’s it?” we asked each other incredulously when we arrived. The camp was awesome and Baxter can’t wait to go. It’s possible, however, that he won’t get to go because I might actually impersonate him and go in his place. What? I forgot to take archery when I went to camp.

I love that my kids both politely took off their shoes before trying out the beds.

Baxter spent an inordinate amount of time wondering which cabin will be his.

Running to the waterfront

Exploring the pier. 

Lyle packed a few cookbooks for the drive and decided to make Matt some muffins when we got home. He was determined to make them independently, but allowed me to be nearby to help him reach certain ingredients and move his step stool when he was, say, carrying a bowl of melted butter to the counter. Other than that, he was totally independent. It was pretty cool to see him measuring and following the recipe so well. We do a lot of baking together and he’s obviously been paying attention. At one point he said, “This is troubling.” [Yes, “troubling”.] “Now I see how hard you and Daddy work to make dinner!” But, damn, that kid cracked two eggs without getting one tiny bit of eggshell in the bowl, and took the whole task very seriously. I was proud of myself for not saying anything about his poor mixing skills and, you know, it didn’t really make much difference in the end, anyway. We ate them with dinner and he couldn’t have been prouder. He said many times, “Now Daddy doesn’t have to work so hard to make dinner tonight!” Which might give one the idea that Daddy just about kills himself slaving over a dinner of muffins every night, but since it’s Father’s Day we’ll let that stand because the thought behind it was so. damn. cute.

While we ate dinner we engaged in our usual antics. Baxter suddenly laughed and said, “This is better than a sitcom family ‘cuz I’m actually in it!”

Happy Father’s Day, Matt, from your family. It may not always be like a sitcom, but that’s probably a good thing.


Lyle, my 6-year old, decided this afternoon that he would “secede from the family” when we got home from school, quickly adding “–after TV“.

This had something to do with hating Baxter. We discussed this as we wandered the hallowed aisles of Whole Foods, a rare treat. Lyle asked if he could choose some food to take with him when he left. I suggested that he could leave after dinner but, really, if you secede from the family, you are on your own with sustenance. As we were choosing apples, I was saying matter-of-factly, “You’re in or you’re out, kid. Either you secede from the family or you don’t. You can’t do this halfway, and besides, I’m not going to give you expensive food if you’re seceding from the family,” at which point I realized a tall bearded young man was looking on with wide-eyed amusement.

Anyway, he was definitely “out”. He was leaving. Today. Well, after TV and dinner. This was then further amended to take place after bedtime cuddling. But then he was definitely leaving.

He would be sleeping down at the beach and taking his bath in the lake. I mentioned that the lake is probably about 40 degrees still and he’d be awfully cold if he swam and then stayed out all through this chilly night, so, little rebel that he is, he announced that he’d be skipping his bath! He also explained that he’d be coming home at 7:00 in the morning, at “sun-up”. You know, for breakfast.

During dinner, Lyle recalled that there is a sign at the beach noting its closure at 11pm, so he switched the locale to the gated front yard of our condo building instead. At that point, Baxter felt this was an adventure he could get into, and they began to pack. Lyle showed me the contents of his backpack: “See? I have my penguin, my Nerf dart gun so I can shoot Baxter awake in the morning, some extra darts, a water bottle, and my extra hot dog from dinner with mustard.”

Clearly, he had all the bases covered, and I suddenly felt like I was in a Frances book. You know, Secession for Frances.

The boys found their sleeping bags and pillows, and Lyle put on a nice Garnet Hill sweater. “Gosh, Lyle, that’s kind of a nice sweater you’re wearing for sleeping out in the yard,” I pointed out. “Well, this is gonna be a nice camping trip,” he replied. Ah. Now I see why it’s appropriate.

While I helped him tie his shoes, he confided, “I was kinda talking to myself downstairs. I was just trying to convince myself that it was gonna be fun, so I said, ‘This is gonna be fun!’ over and over. Baxter asked me why I was talking to myself and that’s why.”

The boys used the bathroom and brushed their teeth, ready for their big night. I heard Lyle exclaim, “Books! Baxter, we need our books!” and they dashed off for some books. They read in the house for a while so that the neighbors enjoying a peaceful happy hour on our front porch could have some privacy, but finally we let them out into the dusk. Of course it’s freezing outside today so they had to gear up, thus the earmuffs and face mask.

First they lay their sleeping bags and pillows down on the sidewalk, city slickers that they are.

photo credit: Rob Taylor

I coached them through the window and once they were settled on the lawn I closed the window and we proceeded to hang out with a friend who was visiting and ordered Thai food for dinner, sneaking peeks and placing bets on how long they’d last. I felt bad that they might be disrupting the Happy Hour fun our great neighbors had going on out there, but we were assured that it was very amusing and one went so far as to suggest they should be paying us for the entertainment. They took pictures.

photo credit: Michelle Marquardt

Baxter lay in his sleeping bag reading a book until well past dark and then used a flashlight to continue, while Lyle turned this way and that, looked up at the trees and the night sky, ate his Vienna Beef hot dog with mustardy fingers, and talked incessantly to his brother, who “mmm-hmmm”ed him to death as he read. In short, it was very much like a night in their room except colder, damper, and with mustard.

In the end, they came back inside an hour and a quarter later, which was about an hour longer than any of us expected. Of note, the minute the neighbors on the front porch called it a night, the boys were right behind them, but the reason given was that Lyle was bothered by a “dripping noise”.

Lyle declared that the adventure had been “35% fun” as he gladly donned his warm pajamas and climbed into his soft bed. For his part, Baxter mainly seemed glad he had been allowed to stay up and read until almost 10pm, it didn’t really matter where he had been.

The boys smelled of damp spring earth and adventure as they snuggled in under the covers. I reminded them that we have plenty of camping ahead of us this summer, on nights that will be far warmer and certainly drier in our tent.

And so, for at least one more day, Lyle is still a member of the family. But we’ll see what tomorrow brings. I’ll make an extra hot dog with lots of mustard, just in case.

Trying to Move On

When I went downstairs to turn off the boys’ light and forcefully pry their books out of their hands, seeing as how it’s nearly 9 o’clock, Baxter appeared quite tired. “Just reading about all these world records has tuckered me out!” he declared, rubbing his eyes, and handing over the 2010 Guinness Book of World Records.

While I found that humorous — that simply reading about “the tallest and the fastest”, as he put it, would exhaust my child — that’s kind of the way we roll over here. Sometimes I fear we are more likely to “get tuckered” from reading about other people’s adventures than from actually having them ourselves. My kids are the ones who start out running through the snowy street when I encourage a pre-breakfast, post-blizzard adventure, and then collapse from the effort or cry about the snow in their boots 2/3 of the way down the block so that we don’t actually see the snowy beach and I have to take a solo trip later to see it for myself. They’d rather go home and eat those blueberry waffles they picked out at Trader Joe’s.

This makes us the perfect candidates for a big blizzard with two feet of snow and a couple of lazy snow days without school. It has to be a “historic snow event” for Chicago to close its public schools, and it was: this was the third biggest snowstorm on city record. We listened to lots of music, I finally made the old-fashioned peanut butter cookies I’ve been dying to make with the kids, we played in the snow a lot, and they watched a great many Star Wars movies. We really did have an incredible time, and lived our small, snowbound life to its fullest. I had a blast, personally, taking in the sight of huge mountains of snow and neighbors banded together to clear alleyways that the city doesn’t plow. In fact, three days later, our own street has yet to be plowed, but I assume they’ll find their way here soon. People here have a lot of spirit and character. “Flinty toughness” indeed, President Obama. I’m totally impressed.

As is often the case for me when I turn away from work completely for a few days, I am having an incredibly hard time getting focused again. I could be using these days to catch up on paperwork that sorely needs doing, and yet it’s as if my brain itself were filled with two feet of snow. But today I was able to leave the alley behind my house in my car, and the boys went to school (Matt took them there on the El), and reality is coming around again as surely as those vehicles are being dug out of every street. Unfortunately, with Baxter’s tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy scheduled for next Wednesday, I will only be re-immersed in work for two days next week before I’m pulled back into family time all over again.

I believe that I should claw my way to the surface of reality and be a responsible clinician and business owner, at least to catch up a bit before Baxter’s surgery, but instead I edit and organize my Flickr set from the blizzard and spend too much time creating a video montage that expresses what these few days have been like for me. Then I watch it too many times, even though so much visual quality has been lost from the original photos. When I do some laundry or wash a few dishes I feel I’ve accomplished something.

Perhaps tomorrow I’ll be ready to move on. I wouldn’t put money on it, though.