Category Archives: fifth grade

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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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.

Secession

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.

A Lot More Good

It’s been a rough one. I won’t get into too many boring details, but it’s been a swirling whirling hot mess of a day. I’m having trouble moving ahead on anything much, and had a major setback in The Great 2010-2011 After-School Babysitter Search, just 3 days before I need someone once again. I’m tense and tired, although a teensy bit of the tired feels good because I got up at 5 o’clock this morning to work out.

But mostly it’s not a good tired at all, and I’m heading into a long weekend where I’m working two out of the three days. Late this afternoon I was fighting tears as I logged back in to websites where I might find a babysitter willing and able to do the hours I need, for what felt like the fiftieth time. And may well have been. I looked around and saw kitchen counters piled high with dirty dishes, Valentine’s Day gifts, books, and random detritus. I’d been here all day and had not even unloaded last night’s dishes and reloaded it with the breakfast dishes. It was just a shitty day.

This evening, after getting the kids into their pajamas and seeing that they were calm, I took the dog out for a walk down to the beach. What I saw was amazing: a big, full moon over the lake with a beautiful reflection on the water. And right below the moon were at least six twinkling white lights spanning the sky: airplanes, waiting to land at O’Hare. They were perfectly spaced and appeared to be at a complete standstill in the air. Gradually, gracefully, the first one in line veered off and flew over the moonlit water. A few moments later the next one left the flock like a shooting star. But always there were more lights behind them. One after another.

I was struck by the neatness, the constancy, of this. It was in stark contrast to my chaotic, unpredictable day, and it was calming. I felt that I knew each of those shooting star airplanes, that they symbolized the constancy and love I have experienced amidst the chaos today:

One was the friend who reminded me that her house is a mess at the end of every week, and another was the friend who assured me that her bedroom was as disastrous as my kitchen.

The next was the friend who told me to order take-out for dinner at exactly the right moment.

Another was the dear one who told me to go ahead and let the kids fuss about tonight’s sleeping arrangements, that I am tired and should sleep in my room with my husband again for the first night in 10 days now that Baxter is doing much better. I love your boys, but let them cry, she said. I listened. She was right.

The next three gave me the gift of names and numbers of more local babysitters without being asked. They dug deep into their email archives and went back to old listservs to find them for me.

After that came the one who visualized a big glass of wine for me while I cruise babysitter ads on craigslist tonight, followed by the friends who simply felt my pain and commiserated.

Later I saw the light that was my husband, whose series of hilarious Twitter messages in which he pretended to be a flaky babysitting applicant brightened my afternoon considerably.

They just kept coming, in a steady stream of light.

When I got back home, the boys had climbed into our bed together and were playing a game called “Here’s what THAT felt like!” as they poked, hit, kicked, and pinched each other, laughing hysterically.

And the phrase that kept coming to mind was, There is more good than bad today. A lot more good.

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.

Quote-a-palooza!

The boys have been cracking me up lately. Here are a few examples, for posterity.

In which they prove to have aptitude for their father’s job…

Baxter, upon hearing that he was going in for a consultation with the ENT to talk about his tonsils and adenoids: I think we could call that a tonsil-tation!

Lyle, hearing that the dog peed twice in the house in a 12 hour period: Wow, Gus! That’s what I call a peein’palooza!

In which Baxter gets political (again)…

Baxter makes some random reference to Sarah Palin (who is number 2 on the list of People He Detests, right after Justin Bieber).

Me: Bax, I’m afraid you’ll be hearing a lot more about her soon.

Baxter: Why?

Me: Because chances are, she’s going to run for President in 2012.

Baxter, with a look of horror on his face: Wow, now I understand why some people think the world is going to end in 2012.

In which Lyle fails to separate himself from a Mii but demonstrates humility…

Lyle, scoffing: You and Daddy didn’t create me… [thinks for a moment] …well – at least – you didn’t CUSTOMIZE me.

Lyle, patting me on the arm, You’re the nicest Mommy in the whole world — but don’t brag to your friends about it.

In which Garfield is evoked at the dinner table…

Baxter suggests we get a sphinx, since it wouldn’t bother my allergies.

Me: You know, cats are a LOT easier to have as pets.

The boys start listing all the ways this is true.

Baxter: And they hate going out on leashes, too. I learned that from Garfield. He also hates Mondays.

And last but not least — my personal favorite — In which Baxter calls ’em like he sees ’em…

Leaving a Mexican restaurant last weekend, Lyle is for some reason overcome by the urge to call out loudly, I don’t believe in God! God is dead!

Baxter immediately mutters under his breath, Well, someone here has failed as a parent…



Magical Years

I love Christmas.

Love. it.

The lights, the tree, candles in the window. I love listening to great Christmas music in the house and the cheesy stuff in the car on Lite FM radio. I couldn’t be happier to be living again in a place where winter means piles of snow and dangerously dangling icicles and seeing our breath outside. Driving through falling snow to be with family on Christmas Eve. I fully embrace the Elf on the Shelf and prolonging the belief in Santa just as long as we can, reading the Christmas books that come out just once a year along with the decorations, sitting by the fire, and hot cocoa with lots and lots of marshmallows.  I get on a baking jag and can’t stop.  One day in December I made a double batch of sugar cookies, a double batch of butternut squash soup, and my Mom’s spaghetti sauce. It made me so happy to have delicious things to pull out of the freezer at a moment’s notice.  During the first snow I took the boys to the local garden shop and bought the most fragrant wreath I could find.

Seasons mark the passage of time in a way that is important to me, and holidays punctuate it. I piece together my memories of recent years by knowing where we were for Christmas that year, or who hosted Thanksgiving. As the kids grow older, our traditions become more important to us all. Listening to music, lighting candles at dinner, decorating the tree, making a million bajillion cookies and then giving away most of them. Christmas Eve with all of the cousins, the kiddie table set for eight, and the White Elephant Bingo game they love, singing carols all together and then opening gifts from that enormous pile 20 generous family members manage to bring for each other. Receiving actual presents in the midst of this season is truly an embarrassment of riches.

Matt and I, people who tend to prefer living in a less cluttered, more spare house, happily haul in boxes of decorations from storage in early December. Christmas is everywhere in this house, from the place mats and napkins to the hand towels in the bathroom. There are special throw rugs that come out, and certain photos of siblings (some now grown) with Santa and some of old friends in Christmas frames that are only seen during this season. Every snowfall is magical to me in the month of December and I love watching the beach down the street fill with snow while I wait for the lake to freeze over.  Heavy snow on trees and a sunrise over the frozen tundra of beach make me catch my breath with wonder early in the morning when I take the dog out.

Christmas changes over time, like everything else in life, and I believe we are in an especially magical period. I have no scars from Christmas past that open up each year; it is not a mixed experience for me like I know it is for many others.  We’re surrounded by kind, generous family on both sides, people who genuinely like one another and enjoy spending time together. A couple years ago, I thought we had THE magical Christmas and there could be no other like it. This year I realize I am feeling that way for the third year in a row.

The kids are old enough to anticipate it without being completely bonkers (most of the time). They can be up until midnight having fun with the family on Christmas Eve and sleep until almost 9 on Christmas morning, unlike their younger days when they’d be up at 6am NO MATTER WHAT. Even though Baxter and I had a frank conversation about Santa last summer, he clearly suspended reality for the season, choosing to believe (and therefore not questioning us about it or threatening to “trap” Santa) for a while longer. Both of them were on their best behavior, just in case that Elf they looked for every morning was real.

I don’t have a clue what Christmas with teenagers will be like someday, but I have no doubt it will be wonderful in its own completely unexpected way, just as every stage with these boys has been. However, I am fairly certain that when the kids are all grown up and I wax nostalgic about Christmases with the kids, it’ll be this stretch of their middle childhood that my mind will return to.  I can’t believe my great good fortune and need to preserve these memories by writing them down because I fear that someday I will laugh a self-deprecating laugh, accusing myself of sugar-coating these years with the false glow of nostalgia.

But, no: they really are beautiful.

Overheard at Dinner

Those of us in the under-11 set are filled to the brim with over-excitement, thanks to there being only 10 DAYS UNTIL Christmas. A sampling of amusement from tonight’s dinner table:

Baxter, conjugating his version of “to barf” in Spanish: “Vomito, vomitas, vomita, vomitamos, vomitan.”

*****

Background: The band K.I.S.S. came up in conversation (don’t ask). Lyle flipped out, being at the age where there’s nothing worse than kissing. In a very bad move, I joked that maybe he makes such a big deal about kissing because he really likes it. He subsequently lost it.

Lyle, sobbing into my shoulder: “You don’t have to rub it in! Thanks a lot! FOR BEING SARCASTIC!!!”

*****

Me, stumbling over my words.

Baxter: “What’s the matter? First time using your new lips?”

*****

Lyle, brandishing his fingers like guns over his head in a self-congratulatory move, hears from Matt for the first time that they’re called “six-shooters”. I asked him how many bullets he’d have if he had two six-shooters (because good math skills come before pacifism, obviously – after all, this is the No Child Left Behind era).

“Twelve!” he said immediately. Matt and I clapped and cheered for him.

He tapped me on the shoulder. “Um, you forgot to say WOW!”

*****

Baxter, guiding a very hyper Lyle downstairs after dinner: “I’m gonna take him downstairs for some razzle-dazzle, so we can get his shenanigans out.”

I don’t know what it means, but I hope it worked.

Young Scientist Deconstructs Anti-Gay Stance

Baxter wandered into the kitchen while I was doing the dishes. “Mommy, you know how there are people who think it’s wrong to be gay?”

“Yes…”

“Well, I think that where their mistake is is that they’re thinking people are like magnets.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you know…with magnets, only opposite charges can connect. Like, the pluses and minuses have to be connected for it to work. Negative can’t connect to negative and positive can’t connect to positive. I think since that has to do with attraction, that’s where people are getting mixed up. But people aren’t the same as magnets.”

He shook his head and headed down the hall.