Category Archives: Happiness is…

13!

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Dear Lyle,

You know, I loved it when you were a baby. I used to tell anyone who would listen that I wanted to freeze you at whatever age you were, so that I could enjoy that stage for just a little longer. I remember someone thinking that was very strange when you were three months old. But I meant it. And then you were the sweetest little boy, with your big brown dreamy eyes and shy smile, hiding your face in my neck and holding onto me for dear life, basically all the time.

But I’m glad I didn’t freeze you at three months, or age four, or even seven and a half. Because then I wouldn’t have you as a 13-year old today, and sweetie, who you are is magical.

At 13 you are that complicated and delightful combination of young boy and teenager. In one long stream of words you tell me that you’re getting buff and that you are highly impressed with your own tan lines this summer, and then ask if I’ll be coming in to tuck you in soon. Of course, I say, smiling to myself, glad that such a buff child still wants a kiss good night, though I continually stub my toe in the dark on the hand weights you keep next to your bed.

You are extremely independent and confident, navigating your way around this big city on your own. You get yourself to and from school on the CTA, and told me last week that you don’t want to take driver’s ed when you’re in high school, because what was the point? You’d never want a car when you can use public transportation to get everywhere. You had a dream recently in which you were taking the purple line downtown and you found that so strange because everyone knows the purple line goes to Evanston, not downtown, and I lost track of the rest of the dream because I couldn’t believe you were dreaming of CTA lines. On your free days in the summer you meet up with your pal Gabriel, friends since you were three years old, and the two of you have amazing adventures. Sometimes you take the El to get someplace in the neighborhood you could as easily walk  to, and we do like to argue good-naturedly over that one. But the two of you will throw a basketball into a backpack and head off into the neighborhood on your bikes, looking for a free hoop wherever you can find it. You are all about basketball.

And, as always, at 13 you are so very, very funny. Tonight as we were driving over to your birthday dinner, you glanced sidewise at my outfit and said seriously and with a hint of an eye roll in your voice, I didn’t even know you owned that dress – it’s like it came out of nowhere!

Sweet boy, you are sensitive and loving and engaged in the world at all times and athletic and have more emotional intelligence than most adults. What a wonderful combination! I am incredibly grateful to be your mother, and not only because you ask how my day was and actually listen. I cannot wait to see what this year holds for you.

All my love,

Mom xoxoxo

 

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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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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

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.

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.

A Year of Yes

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Dear Baxter & Lyle:

I have never been so sad to see a summer end.

It was a pretty fabulous one. We got to spend a whole lot of time together and I loved every minute of it.

It was our Summer of Yes. If the three of us wanted to make it happen, we did. We went on our first of (I hope) many camping trips together, road tripping to Northern Michigan and camping in the woods with friends for four days. We canoed and swam and ate ice cream and explored and listened to great music and podcasts for hours and hours on end in the car and came home smiling. I pulled you both out of a scary river current and let Lyle poop at the side of the road when we ran out of options. Those are the things you’ll never forget, while I will always remember the laughter, cooking over the fire, waking up under the tall oaks, twinkling fireflies, and the deep sense of empowerment I felt by the end of the trip. I want to cover some real distance with you one of these summers because I see now that we three can do anything we set our minds to and there is so much to see in this world. Let’s do it.

We also had a wonderful week in California where I went in another direction for a few days so that Nana and Papa could spoil you epically, away from my watchful eye. You swam, saw movies, ate insanely syrupy breakfasts, and went to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk where you rode all the wildest rides together, screaming, over and over. When I joined you we hiked and climbed rocks along the coast, visited with your great-grandmothers, and had lots of laughs with Nana and Papa. You met your newest cousin, tiny baby Oden, and fell in love with him. You didn’t want to come home to Chicago, you were so happy there.

But we did make it home and then it became the summer of Spot the baby leopard gecko, whom we added to our family as a birthday gift for Lyle. You both adore that cool little guy and take good care of him.

You didn’t get along every minute, god knows, but the two of you are real pals. When Lyle returned a gift at Target yesterday that he couldn’t use, he turned around from the register and gave Baxter half the money he got from the cashier. Baxter hadn’t asked, nor had he complained as he watched Lyle get so many special gifts, but Lyle showed enormous empathy, remembering what it feels like to be the brother not getting anything on a birthday and simply said to his big brother, “Here, Baxter. You can get something, too.” There was so much love and generosity in that exchange.

Although we have wished aloud for this summer to last forever, the final day arrived today. We wondered how it could be, that today really was the last day and that you’d be back at school tomorrow. But walking up to our beach blanket after playing in the lake this glorious afternoon, you both agreed that you were ready. You want to see your friends and to know what’s in store for you in fourth and eighth grades. And so after dinner you made tomorrow’s lunches uncomplainingly and have headed to bed early to read for a while before I go in for snuggling and lights out.

Let’s make it a whole Year of Yes. Yes to new classrooms and friends and learning and new experiences, to travel and time spent relaxing at home and snuggling in bed at night. Yes to reading funny chapter books aloud and baking together and Jedi training in the basement and feeding live crickets to the lizard. Yes to watching you two, who have all my love, growing up more beautifully each year.

Love,
Mommy

We Made it!

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We made it. The last day of school. We arrived early, and they were thrilled. They’re excited about field day, report cards, the picnic this afternoon, and class assignments. Lyle showed me (twice) the tiny cheat sheet in his shorts pocket that matches next year’s teachers with their room numbers, so when he sees the room number on his report card today he’ll know which teacher will be his. He cried about having to say good bye to his beloved third grade teacher today. Baxter is hoping he gets his awesome math teacher for homeroom next year. She is truly amazing and so I hope so, too.

Baxter got an award for straight As this year and Lyle is on the honor roll for getting all As and Bs. I’m so proud of all their hard work, particularly in the face of a lot of stress for them at home.

Happy End of School!

One School Year

Dear Baxter & Lyle,

September 2012 to June 2013 — 9 months — one school year. So much change. Your lives at home have changed dramatically and you look so very different. But here you are, laughing and being ridiculous together just as you’ve always done.

Love you boys, and I’m so proud of how beautifully you are growing up. Keep being ridiculous together.

xo,

Mom

September 2012 June2013

26 Acts of Kindness

IMG_0920Yesterday was the last day of school here in Chicago before the winter break. In lieu of a cheesy holiday movie on that last interminable day of school, my seventh grader’s teacher made the decision to show the kids a video about Ann Curry’s 26 Acts of Kindness campaign, created to honor the 26 children and adults who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT one week before. My son and his friends were very aware of the tragedy in Newtown, pulling together the following Monday to wear blue in honor of those killed, and talking about it quite a bit. The kids were inspired to go out and engage in 26 Acts of Kindness themselves and then come back to share what they’ve been doing in person and on their class’ private educational social media site. The students have been posting their acts of kindness this weekend, and they’re quite uplifting.

My son came home with the idea to bake cookies for 26 people and deliver them around the city this weekend; his 8-year old brother jumped into the idea with both feet and they were off and running. I can’t express enough what a joy it was for us as a family to do this together and I believe that it is especially important for school children to feel that they are helping in some positive way during a time that is so sad and scary for them. I am very grateful for the teacher’s idea to share this with the kids; it’s a perfect example of ways teachers impact our children for life. I can point to specific ways my teachers positively influenced my thoughts and actions as I grew up and now I see the same thing happening for my kids.

For me, the heart and energy I saw the boys pour into this project, and their interactions with strangers around our neighborhood, was all the gift I needed this Christmas. Below are photos of our adventure as the four of us worked together to make this happen today. Here is our story (click on any picture to see it enlarged):

Each of the boys made 13 cards to attach to their plates of cookies…

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We all worked hard making a huge batch of sugar cookies while listening to music DJ’d by the 7th grader.

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Here we have the requisite Gangnam Style dance interlude while one batch was baking…

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Next, the kids assembled 26 plates of cookies, covered them in plastic wrap, and attached their notes to the top of them. They each carried a bag of 13 plates out into the neighborhood.

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Starting with our mail carrier, the boys approached every person they passed in our neighborhood, asking if they’d like some free homemade cookies. We walked the couple blocks to our local El stop and gave them out to people coming and going from the train, including a failed attempt to give some to the CTA worker inside. We all had our favorite recipients; mine was probably the runner who jogged the rest of the way home carrying his plate of homemade cookies. He gave each of the boys a high-five, exclaiming to each of them in turn, “You my man!” 

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Our New Year’s resolution is to think of more random acts of kindness all year long. Happy Holidays to you all!

(For more information about this campaign, here’s a video about it; you can also find plenty of inspiring ideas by searching the #26Acts and #20Acts hashtags on Twitter!) 

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.