Category Archives: Sixth Grade

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.

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The Boys’ Room: Before and After

As I mentioned in my last post, I am on a de-cluttering junket around my house and cannot be stopped. I’ve known for a few weeks that the boys’ bedroom would be up next. Not only was I closing their bedroom door whenever anyone came over, but I was needing to close it when I was home alone so that I didn’t catch sight of it – it was that bad.

You see, it was more than Little Boy Detritus™ all over a floor that needed organizing. This room of theirs, on the main level of our duplex condo, had been our home office for years. We used that term loosely, primarily because the room held two desks. But, in reality, it was the room where we put things we didn’t know what to do with or simply weren’t dealing with. Online purchases to be returned? Throw that box in the “office”.  Kitchen countertop paperwork stuffed into a bag before a dinner party? Why not toss that in there, too? The door will be closed, who would know! When I did need a quiet place to work, I couldn’t really find the desk, so I set up shop with my laptop at the dining room table and had a makeshift office in that room. So when the boys asked last summer if we could move their bedroom into that room, we shrugged. It’s not like we were really using it, right?

Yeah, we were happy to oblige, only we cleared out furniture to make room for their bunk bed and then ran out of time. There were still bulletin boards on the wall near where my desk had stood, a large book case full of our books, and bags of unidentified paperwork. And so when we’d ask the boys to clean their room, there was only so much they could do – no real shelves or storage bins to be found.

Can you see now why this might’ve been a big problem?

Okay, so I will allow you to see some “before” pictures, only because I am so pleased with the “after” set. This is my view of their room from the hallway (basically from the entrance to our home) this morning while they were in the midst of playing with Bey Blades:

Scary, yes?

And here is the same view at bedtime tonight. Turns out, they have a rug!

Next – and this takes guts, Wonderfriends – here is one side of their room where we have given them no storage and haven’t cleaned out our “office” stuff in the 5 months since they moved into this room. I can only hope humility is my ticket to heaven here.

This always looks this way.

Well. The craziest thing happened. I spent about four hours clearing our things out of that corner, generating two bags of recycling and another carload for Salvation Army. I found old mail – Oh! There’s that J. Jill credit card that I swore (indignantly) over the phone I had never received! – and forms I filled out that apparently never made it to the kids’ school in 2010, among other treasures. Then I took out the old bookcase and replaced it with a storage unit I went to pick up from Target. Voila!

I can’t even see all the Bey Blades now. Miracles do happen!

There are still a couple things to take off their wall (overstuffed “officey” organizers, and I do use that term loosely) and some art we’ll put up, but that will wait until tomorrow.

Next up: the very large playroom downstairs! But first I need to gather my strength.

My True Gift

Dear Boys —

We are rapidly approaching Christmas here, and you are in school for just one more agonizing hour before your long-awaited winter break. Every morning in the past week you have leapt out of bed to look for the Elf on the Shelf, examined and eaten your Advent calendar chocolates before breakfast, and Baxter has informed us of precisely how many minutes are left until 7am on Christmas morning will finally arrive.

This being the first year you have earned an allowance by doing chores around the house, you had some money in your savings accounts. For months you have not touched a dime of it. We were so touched that you both wanted to supplement gifts you’d made with gifts you could shop for and wrap yourselves for your family. I remember that feeling well, shopping for my family with my own money, and was overjoyed that you experienced it this year as well. You both placed hand-wrapped gifts under the tree that you cannot wait for us to open, and every day you remind us that you bought them all by yourselves. Your glee and pride are contagious!

But I have something important to tell you: no matter what is in those packages (and I know I will love them because YOU picked them out, bought them, and wrapped them for us!), there are some other gifts you have given us during this Christmas season that are just as magical – probably even more. Let me tell you what I mean:

LYLE: Sweet, sweet boy, you have surprised me during this Christmas season in so many ways! First, you have made such great friends in second grade that you want nothing more before school than to run off and play tag with them. Rather than standing by my side, shyly smiling at the classmates who greet you in the mornings and then sadly kissing me good-bye, you stand near me until you catch the first glimpse of one of your buddies and then you go tearing off into the play yard, screeching with excitement. You tell me it’s okay now if I leave for work before the morning bell rings, but it’s such a joy to watch you out there with your friends, I stay put and soak it up in amazement.

Further, you gave me an enormous gift yesterday. No, it wasn’t purchased with your own dollars or wrapped by your small hands. It was the sight of you standing on stage during the school holiday show, looking out at the audience with a broad, confident grin. It was the fact that you had speaking lines prior to the song that you spoke clearly and loudly, so loud that we could hear every single word. And it was the fact that you didn’t even tell me you had those lines, but left it as a surprise to be discovered when I heard that familiar voice with its sweet little lisp ringing through the auditorium and suddenly realized it was my own boy, standing up there with the wide grin of a natural performer. In kindergarten you stood on that same stage, frozen, jingle bells silent while your classmates shook them mightily and sang. Look at you now! I am in awe.

BAXTER: Oh, Baxter, you fabulous tween, you! Imagine my surprise when you announced this week that you wanted to register for the writing workshop offered after school by an author you love! You, who have found the act of writing down your fabulous ideas so challenging these last few years, who cried at the very thought of a writing assignment for homework just two years ago, but who discovered last spring that you can write one heck of a creative story — you are not only handling your school writing work but taking on a class in which you write a short creative story every week and then work closely with a real author to edit it! What a gift that is.

And then! The very next day, there you were on stage at the same holiday show as your brother, not only singing in the choir for the first time but then also on stage again a few minutes later, singing happily in a quartet with three of your friends – a song whose lyrics you and your friends had written yourselves and asked to perform!

I revisit these developments over and over in my mind today, and I am overwhelmed by your abilities – both of you! – to stretch and move outside your comfort zones with such grace and confidence. I hope you will always know, all your lives, that watching the two of you grow and change into such incredible people is the best gift I could ever, ever receive.

Eleven is Heaven

Dear Baxter,

I’m not entirely sure how this happened, but I find myself celebrating your eleventh birthday today.

On one hand, the years since you were born have, quite literally, flown; on the other, you often seem so far beyond your years that I feel you must be older than this. You and Lyle like to tease me for introducing you to someone as my “11-year old son, Baxter” back in April. And of course I’m sorry about that, but you have to understand that even as a tiny baby your doctor once referenced your chart in the middle of an appointment to check your birth date because you seemed to be bigger and more mature than he expected of a 6-month old. “Did he skip an appointment?”, he asked, laughing incredulously. So it’s not just me, you see.

Baxter, I love to see the world through your curious, logical lens. Your favorite dinner conversation, the kind that lights you up, is a math problem. You and Daddy frequently geek out at the end of dinner, with you running to get paper and a pencil to work something out. Some nights you bring home a brain teaser to see if any of us can complete it. (I never can.) You told your extended family that the highlight of your upcoming week will be the day you get to go to Advanced Math. And science? You love it all. You intend to be a zoologist someday and you went to sleep last night with a new animal encyclopedia open on your chest, a treasured birthday gift from Oma and Pops.

But there is more to you than your strong left-brain dominance – oh, so much more. You are sweet and sensitive, good with younger kids (including your own brother, which I thank you for), and a truly kind soul. You think of other people, asking me, for instance, how my day was. Recently, when you woke me during the night, you asked with great concern the following morning if I’d ever gone back to sleep.

Baxter, you have your challenges just like the rest of us, but you have a song in your heart. You sing and hum all day long – while reading, while walking, while taking a shower. You don’t even know you are doing it most of the time. Your Oma does the same thing. This year you decided to discontinue playing the flute and switched to choir. This seems right.

You read. You read and read at a pace your speed-reading mother never imagined possible, completing the hugest of books overnight and recalling minute details. In fact, I was so blindsided by your love of reading from the time you were a small toddler that it took a teacher to point out to me that math and science were your true loves. I’m still a little shocked a few years later.

I adored you as a baby, toddler, and small boy, but Baxter — eleven is heaven. It truly  is. You are still engaging and funny, and now you also get the grown-up stuff. We stifle giggles about the little kids in the carpool, and we share a love for NPR shows we listen to on podcast together like Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, Car Talk, and Radio Lab. Our taste in music is so similar I’m spooked sometimes when I’m about to turn up the volume on a song in the car and you say from the back seat, “Can you please turn this up? I love this song!” On every album we like (everything from Copland to REM to The Decembrists and Alexi Murdoch), we share the same favorite tracks. It’s uncanny. You love The Onion and political jokes – you have a strong interest in politics in general. When The New Yorker arrives you read all the cartoons but always flip to the caption contest first. You have read the recent Dear Mountain Room Parents Shouts & Murmurs essay to every person who has ridden in our car in the past couple weeks, killing yourself laughing over all the best parts. “Fanta!” you hoot. You keep that issue in the back seat, just for fun.

You are old enough to want to comb your hair some days before school, but young enough to bounce excitedly into the kitchen to show me how it looks. Old enough to preen before the mirror in new clothes but young enough to wear them out in the back yard in Michigan and let your brother and cousins tackle you to the ground and sit on you, grinding them into the dirt.

We were recently talking a bit about what we believe in. You immediately rattled off a list so compelling that I stopped to write it down. Here’s what you told me: “Peace, love, awesomeness, and impossibilities.”

Yes. You did.

You are a child of my heart and I love you and your earnest, full-of-life self more with each passing year. Happy 11th Birthday, Baxter.

Love,

Mommy

Summer Wanes

It’s been a glorious summer here in Chicago, and I ought to know: I haven’t left town since our mid-June family trip to my college reunion in Minnesota. Yes, we have stayed home all summer, catching up with local friends in between their trips to all corners of the earth, and serving as a stopover for families on long road trips, hugely enjoying seeing them on their way to faraway destinations. We had plans for this summer, all of which fell through; none dramatically, just in the ways that plans can fall through sometimes. And so here we were.

It was lovely, being here for long, warm summer days. In the end, it occurred to me that summer is exactly the time to stay home when you live here. Late winter is when I want to be far, far away, but summer? Flowers blooming, the neighborhood yards lush, the lake perfectly swimmable, fireflies glowing and cicadas buzzing into the evening. Why leave?

August was a quieter, calmer month for me. The kids were home more with their sitter, not requiring me to rush them to day camp every day with lunches and water bottles, swimsuits and towels. Many of my clients were on reduced schedules, allowing me to work three days in a row and take four day weekends all month. In the past, this is the month we’ve left town, in effect leaving at just the time when we could be home and relaxing. I’ve loved being home this year.

I’ve gotten some projects done around the house – cleaning out drawers and closets, setting up a budget for our family, and getting the boys on board with a set of expected household chores. But more importantly, the spaces in my days and nights have opened up my mind and creativity in new ways; I find myself with ideas that excite me about my work now and in the future. These margins in my days have also given me the energy to tackle the challenges we have had all year with our dog, and help us move in the right direction with him. We’ve made great strides with him in the past month. I’ve seen my friends often, and I found a yoga class I love, something I’ve been wanting to do for the past year. I also started swimming in the lake with a friend or two at least once a week at sunrise: now that is the best way imaginable to start a day. If yoga and sunrise swimming don’t leave you feeling zen and ready to take on the world, what will?

I can see the impact on my whole life when I have this extra time; indeed, the impact on all our lives. And I am managing to keep some blocks open in my schedule this year, something I was unable to do last year. That’s going to be time for me. Maybe I’ll swim, or go to yoga, or take a walk. I’ve arranged everything around those blocks of time: they’re non-negotiable. Because for so long, everyone else’s needs and wants have been non-negotiable, but what I needed came last time and again. Not because anyone asked me to put them last, but it was what I did.

And so the summer wanes. But this year I’m not scared of the fall routine, the full impact of demands at work that go from 0-60 in early September, because when I look at my schedule I see some days when instead of driving the carpool I will have time to run to the gym, and other days when I will be stopping home for lunch and a dog walk before seeing afternoon clients.

It’s become easier to shift the kids’ summer bedtime closer to their school bedtime this week because it’s getting dark earlier already; only last week that task seemed impossible. Their school supplies have been dropped off and we’ve seen their new classrooms. The sun comes up a bit later each day, and our sunrise swims – those that we may have left – will have to be timed just so. But I welcome the changing light and look forward to the golden trees and a new school year. And I welcome more days of this life that thankfully seems to keep spinning in sync with the amazing world we live in, year after year.

Not a Regular Grown-up

At work this afternoon, a 6-year old girl, laughing about a scenario having to do with “bad potty words”, says to me, “Imagine if you were a grown-up…”

“Wait – !” I interrupt, “– I actually am a grown-up!”

She stops, looking confused. “Okay, imagine if you were an older grown-up…”

* * * * *

Lyle and Baxter run into the room to show me the toys they just “washed” in my bathroom sink. “Look at how clean these are!” they shout at me.

“Wow! Great!” I say, trying to sound enthusiastic.

“Mommy, you know why I think grown-ups say ‘wow!’ and ‘great!’?” Lyle asked, thoughtfully. “It’s because they want the kids to just go away because they’re doing work and stuff.”

Me, “Well, sweetie, I do think it’s cool. What else do you want me to say?”

Lyle: “No, not you. Regular grown-ups.”

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.