Category Archives: siblings


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.


We Made it!


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.



September 2012 June2013

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.


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.

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.

First Day of (Stupid, Stinky) School

Our end-of-summer was a lazy one. No last-minute trips out of town and very little on the calendar. Just long days to play at home and at the beach, with neighbors and each other. It was pretty restful. Over the weekend, Matt and I focused on getting the house organized and ready for a new school year. I’m a big believer in various “systems” to keep us all organized, mainly because I’d rather have everyone aware of their responsibilites and in a rhythm so that we’re not constantly telling the kids what to do and repeating ourselves again…and again…and again… It leaves us with a lot more time for fun. And so by last night we were ready. Responsibility lists were posted for each child for various parts of the day, our meal plan was tacked to the fridge, today’s lunches were made by the kids, and their backpacks were packed.

Baxter, who had been ambivalent about going back to school (the boy loves him some unstructured reading time!), started to look forward to it when we went in last week to meet his new teacher and drop off school supplies. He was excited to see his friends and find out what fifth grade is all about. He told Lyle today that he wasn’t nervous about school, because he reminds himself that there’s nothing to be worried about: “Every year, the teacher is really nice on the first day,” he told Lyle. I asked him if the same held true for the second day and even the last day of school and he agreed that it always had. When we got to school I had to yell for him to come back to us to get a photo taken with Lyle before he tore out into the masses to find his friends. Luckily, we were able to see him off as he walked in with his signature grin.

For his part, Lyle was nervous. He loved his classroom when he saw it last week and his teacher was wonderful and warm. He was very shy and hid behind me, but he was smiling. Unsurprisingly, he was full of bluster this morning (typical when he’s nervous) and declared many times in a variety of ways, “I hate stupid, stinky school!” As I pointed out to him, however, he was saying this in a very cheery voice. I think he was nervous but also a bit excited. He has forgotten how much he loves school, but I trust that won’t last long. It helped a lot for me to tell him repeatedly that every child is at least a little nervous, and even his teacher might be a bit anxious about how the first day would go. Then I popped in a Nate the Great book on CD in the car to change the subject on our drive in.

This sums the morning up pretty well!

There goes my first grader, into stupid, stinky school!

Ready to go!

…and off goes my fifth grader!

I canceled my afternoon clients in order to be there to pick them up. I can’t wait to hear about their day!

Parents of Very Young Children, there is Hope!

Nearly three years ago, I wrote a post in which I was extremely frustrated that my kids had no apparent ability to play without me. At ages three and six, I believed (and still do) that – given where they were developmentally – they should have had the capacity to do so for more than 3 minutes. I remember with great clarity sitting at this very dining room table and venting my huge irritation over this. I couldn’t manage a phone call or a few sips of coffee without both of them dancing and hollering around me, begging me to play or insisting our downstairs was too scary to go without me. You know, the downstairs where they slept every night without a problem.

I am here years later to tell parents of younger children: there is hope. I report today that your children, if they don’t do so naturally but are developmentally ready, truly can learn to play by themselves or with each other without you. I swear it.

This took some time, but as Lyle moved through the preschool years I gradually played on the floor with him less and less. Now this was no easy feat for me, being a play-based, developmental therapist. I believe strongly in playing with kids and I learned a lot about my own children through pretend play. We also worked through some challenges through play. I think it has an important place in early childhood parenting and we had a lot of fun in those early years. Some kids just seem to wean themselves from intensive parental participation more naturally than others. I did a lot of “getting them settled” and then leaving to do something else for a while, gradually increasing the time I was away. It also made a big difference when Lyle was old enough to share some of his big brother’s interests (such as Pokemon) and they could play more together.

Believe me, Lyle had some major fits about my periods of unavailability, but he also had major fits when he didn’t like what was for dinner or when I didn’t let him in the bathroom and wouldn’t hold conversations with him through the door. About all of those things I said, “Tough luck.” He got over it.

And so, where are we now? Lyle and Baxter will occasionally play together in the play room for long periods. When their friends come over, they are out of sight for hours, only emerging once in a while to ask for a snack or because they need my height to reach something. They require zero supervision when playing. When they’re not playing together, Lyle has learned to entertain himself with toys or a book, and Baxter is typically reading. I would estimate that 3-4 times a week I hear the words, “I don’t know what to do” from Lyle. It used to be 3-4 times an hour.

I think it also helped that we started taking long road trips with them and taught them the fine art of boredom. They can take a 6-7 hour road trip (with just one stop) without any DVDs – just music, podcasts (they especially like Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me and This American Life), books, naps, and conversation. I believe this made a big difference in their ability to entertain themselves.

In the mornings, my early risers have learned to sleep until 7:00 and know that if they do wake up earlier, they are to entertain themselves downstairs (where their bedroom and playroom are) until that time. No one wakes in the night anymore. Baxter has even learned the fine art of going back to sleep after waking in the morning, thanks to Matt, and so on rare occasions they are sleeping until 8 now. They no longer come into our room first thing and insist on snuggling and an immediate breakfast. The boys watch a couple cartoons together and then start making their own breakfast when we get up. Yes, they make their own breakfasts now.  I can often make my coffee and food and sit down with them. (Crazy, right??) Of course the counter is a mess, but we’ll work on that soon.

This morning was one of my days off from work and I was looking forward to lounging as long as I could get away with it. I asked Matt last night to walk Gus in the morning so I could stay in my pj’s and he did (thank you!). I was aware of the boys watching TV, heard Baxter feed Gus breakfast, and then I finally got out of bed at 8:30. (Unheard of!) I walked into the living room, thinking they were still watching cartoons, and saw this: both of them reading quietly, with their feet together.

I’m glad I’ve been writing things down along the way so that I can fill in the details of my spotty memory, because I immediately thought about how very different parenting was just a few years ago and wanted to read that old post. I’m sure in three years — when they’re 9 and 12 (gulp!) — we’ll be in yet another completely different world that I can’t begin to imagine today.