Category Archives: High School

Tomorrow

Dear Baxter,

On the night before your first day of kindergarten in August 2005, your parents started a blog, Baxtergarten. I didn’t really know what a blog was, but I remember sitting down to write my first post that night in the little sunroom off our bedroom in San Francisco as if it were yesterday. I wrote about how we helped prepare you for school and what was on my mind as you set off for such a big adventure. What a milestone in our lives that was! I found the post – you can read it here.

On this, the night before your last day of senior year in high school, with college on the immediate horizon, this paragraph of that kindergarten eve post brings tears to my eyes:

Everyone asks if we’re nervous or sad about this big change. I can’t speak for Matt, but I’m mostly just excited. I don’t feel nervous at all, and sad? – no. It’s more like nostalgia for me. Amazing how quickly we’ve gotten to this night, and how much Baxter has changed in these four-and-three-quarter years. But he couldn’t be more ready for this new adventure, and I feel confident that he’s completely up for it. That much was clear when we watched him bolt up the unfamiliar school stairs in search of the play yard on Friday. So I feel ready, as ready as that backpack and lunchbox and fresh outfit all laid out in his room. Then again, maybe that’s just tonight.

There was so much I knew about who you were at age almost-five, and a great deal I could have guessed at if anyone had asked me what you’d be like as you’re leaving high school and home. But there were a few things I never could’ve known back then.

I knew you had a great sense of humor when you went off to kindergarten, but I didn’t know that you’d be making me fall over laughing just about every day as a high school senior with your dry and very quick wit.

I knew you could chant for a Democratic candidate with the best of them, but I didn’t know you’d be following politics and world events as closely as I am in 2018. Thanks for marching with me this year and for paying attention. I’m sorry you won’t be 18 in time for the midterms.

I knew then that you loved music and that each time I was about to turn up one of my favorite songs you’d call out from the back seat of the car to ask me to turn it up. “I love this one!” you’d crow from your booster seat. But I didn’t know that we’d be touring colleges all over the midwest years later, belting out the Hamilton soundtrack together in the car over and over from Illinois to Minnesota to Iowa. I should’ve known you’d be able to memorize every word, though, you always could do that.

I didn’t know that my little guy who avoided writing and drawing at that age would make me hilarious hand-drawn cards every Mother’s Day and birthday year after year, all the way through high school, gifting me a treasure trove of delightful cards to enjoy long after he leaves home.

I knew that you loved animals, particularly dinosaurs, the day you went off to kindergarten, and that you wanted to be a zoologist or paleontologist when you grew up. You slept with a visual animal dictionary under your pillow, after all. But with all the interest in math and computer science during the intervening years, I didn’t know that by the end of your senior year you’d be hoping to study biology – with an eye toward zoology – in college. When you went to the 2-day event for admitted college students this past spring, you told me the best class you sat in on was zoology and that on the day you visited they were learning about dinosaur sex. See? College is going to be awesome, son.

Just as I felt that night before kindergarten so many years ago – before Pokemon and Bey Blades and our move to Chicago and the changes in our family, the stapled bonus jaguar and summers at our little urban beach on Columbia Ave. and all those other Explore More projects and before the glasses and the braces and then adjusting to the lack of braces and the contacts and the new friends and all the crazy house moves and the Pathfinder and the Magic the Gathering and the Dungeons and Dragons and the college tours and you Rick Rolling me on the Sonos and trips to California and long road trips together and all those big high school kids gathered around the dining room table playing games and eating pizza and dropping f-bombs and all the laughs at the dinner table and the night you managed to get tomato soup all the way onto the wall across the room (we still don’t know how you did it) and a million bedtime hugs and I love yous – I feel exactly the same way about the milestone you have now approached. That is:

I’m mostly just excited. I don’t feel nervous at all, and sad? – no. It’s more like nostalgia for me. Amazing how quickly we’ve gotten to this night, and how much you have changed in these 17-and-a-half years. And also, in hindsight, all the ways you are exactly who you were at 4-and-three-quarters. But now, like then, you couldn’t be more ready for this new adventure, and I feel confident that you are completely, 100%, up for it. Also, looking back at kindergarten eve, it’s great that you make your own lunch and pick out your own clothes, so thanks for that.

Go take on the world, my love. The world is a wonderful place with you in it and every new person and place you meet will be made better for knowing you.

Love, Mom

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17

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

Seventeen.

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.

Love,

Mom (& the original three*)

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

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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.