Category Archives: photographs

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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Mirrors

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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.

 

 

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

 

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.

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

Homeschooling

His head was already on the dining room table in defeat. He was crying over the chicken I’d served for dinner. Because Why wasn’t it hot dogs?? But when he picked himself back up toward the end of the meal and looked at me again, there was a completely different question on Lyle’s mind: Why won’t you just homeschool me?

When I am being my best Mom self, you know, when I have time to sit there with my kid and my glass of wine and fantasize right along with him, it’s well worth doing. I remember sitting with this same child 5 years ago, him crying on the floor before preschool because he wanted to stay home with me (anyone notice a theme here?), dreaming up how we would spend the day if we were together. In the end we wrote “Watch Backyardigans” on a piece of paper and posted it right by the door so we’d remember immediately after school that we were going to do that together, and then he wiped his eyes and headed out the door for school.

And so, rather than dismissing this new request by saying, Oh, don’t be silly, you love school! or But what about all your great friends? (or even There’s no way in hell I could afford to quit my job! or, what would’ve been the worst dream killer of all, We aren’t even together all five school days!) I let him spin this thought out tonight as far as he wanted, saying, Wouldn’t that be great? I wonder what it would look like if I homeschooled you? He had a lot of great ideas, so I used another one of my favorite parenting strategies, and told him we’d better write them all down because they were so important. When we do this, we don’t just jot them down on scrap paper; I make sure we get a legal pad from my home office. It’s official that way. You wouldn’t believe how happy it makes kids when we take their ideas seriously enough to write them on a legal pad.  He wanted to write them himself and he immediately brightened.

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He created one column for the benefits of a homeschool life and one column filled with his brainstormed ideas about how we’d spend our days. I loved this process because it gave me a window into what he was craving: mainly, homeschool would be quieter. He wouldn’t have to rush in the morning and neither would I. There would be no fire drills and he could avoid his least favorite classes, choir and Spanish. What I heard was that the chaos and noise of school is feeling like too much right now, and so I verbalized that and empathized with him. He’s hoping we could have a Minecraft class every day and take a lot of field trips. He wants to do art with me daily, and have the freedom to take a bathroom break any old time. And he’s dying to study topics of his choosing. Who can blame him for any of those wishes?

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He decided to type up his list and I agreed that would be a good idea. When he was finished, I suggested he put an asterisk next to the things that were most important to him, but instead he made smiley faces next to those – there was a smiley face by each line when he was done.

ImageOn his own, he brought up the challenge of income for me. He thought maybe we could homeschool on MWF and I could work T/Th and weekends. He’d come along to my office when I had to work and play games on his iPod Touch all day (how generous of him!). I simply told him it was a pretty big decision to homeschool and change my work around, and we were only having the first conversation about it. He was satisfied with this and went off to read in bed, relaxed because he’d gotten to share all that was on his mind and knew he’d been heard.

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I don’t expect to homeschool Lyle. It’s true that I was originally planning to be a teacher before speech pathology called my name, and it’s also true that many times when the boys were younger I marveled at their quick minds and interest in everything I told them, and thought, Wow, would it ever be cool to be this kid’s teacher! Lyle’s ideas about how we would spend our days are also appealing to me, minus the Minecraft class. But the reality is, I love my career. When I stayed home with the boys for periods of time over the years, it didn’t feel like a good fit for me. I also have a belief that my income is important because it is currently paying for many critical things. And so I have never seriously considered homeschooling them.

But when Lyle and I were discussing this tonight I’m sure he believed I was open to the idea because, in fact, I was. My interest in his thoughts about it were sincere and I let myself imagine it along with him. If there is one thing I’ve learned in the last couple of years, it’s the importance of being fully open to new ideas, to turn off the I can’t voice and just listen. I could never have made the big decisions I’ve made in the past year without that openness. Could I be divorced? Could I be a single mom? Could I live in an apartment in another neighborhood? Where do I want to live? Chicago? Evanston? Our own condo? Should I go work for someone else? Should I reorganize my own practice to make it work better? What would each of those paths look and feel like? I fully explored every option, quite often going down multiple imagined paths simultaneously with complete openness, until I finally chose certain ones. Which is, I believe, how I ultimately landed in a new life and work situation that feels very, very right to me.

My guess is, Lyle will bring up homeschooling on occasion. We’ll revisit his list, probably add to it a few times, and I’ll watch and see if he continues to feel so strongly about this once we transition into summer and leave behind the extra end-of-the-year chaos that has been especially tough for the two of us this past week. Chances are, he will find quite a few good reasons to go back to school in the fall, and will be happy to have come to that decision on his own. But if he doesn’t, I will continue to imagine it along with him and perhaps we’ll eventually find ourselves on some totally different path we’d never have expected in a million years. To me that would mean we’re living an amazing, full life.

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!) 

So taunting! A week with Lyle.

Lyle has been on a roll this week.

First, I bring you his birthday card for Baxter, on which he taped a penny and wrote the words you see below:

And, now, tonight’s “weather forecast” homework. Translation below:

Today it is a sunny day. It is 35 degrees, so wear a coat, hat, mittens, and maby a scarf.

Wear your sunglasses!!

(So taunting!)

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