My Son is So Very Charitable (Or Will Be Someday? Maybe?)

Lying in Lyle’s bed tonight as he bounced on his knees and flip-flopped like a fish on dry land (the after-effects of a lot of Thanksgiving soda and two slices of pie), I tried to shift the subject of conversation from how much allowance I owed him to what charity he would like to give his money to this Christmas. You see, each week I set aside a dollar for each of the kids and at some point in the year they can give it to the charity of their choice. It rapidly became clear, however, that Lyle didn’t exactly have a grasp on the definition of charity organizations, as these were the ideas he offered:

1) “The Army”. RationaleSo they can buy more guns! [Oh, swell.]

2) “Some Louisiana Fundraiser”. Rationale: Because it’s the state that starts with “L” like my name so it’s my favorite state! [Here his bouncing was accompanied by some old kindergarten song about how your left index finder and thumb make the letter “L” but I didn’t hear it clearly as I was beginning to bury my head under the pillow, wondering where I had gone wrong with this kid.]

3) “The Lyle Health Organization”. RationaleThey could give me some sort of chip that would let me get out of dangerous situations every time. 

4) “Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk”. RationaleIf someone really fat sits on the roller coaster and breaks it, they could fix it before I get there again.

5) “Activision”. RationaleThey make Skylanders. Maybe if I give them my money they’ll be able to create another figure.

Once he stopped listing his amazing ideas [believe me, this went on for a while, I just can’t remember them all] and I caught my breath from laughter and came out from under the pillow, he asked suddenly, “Well, then what IS a charity?”

I believe he landed on a local animal shelter, although I wouldn’t rule out his $52 ending up in Louisiana somehow.

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Gratitude.

It was a tricky morning at our house. Typically on Fridays I try to keep my schedule light and open. After a very busy week, it’s the one morning I generally don’t leave early with the kids or start work early. I get to play June Cleaver on Fridays, wearing my bathrobe as I’m making the boys breakfast and packing their lunches before they get picked up for school; most of the time the boys are responsible for these things. But today I have a packed schedule and so I volunteered to drive all the kids to school since I was heading out early anyway. Which meant we were all rushing once again, and the kids were none too pleased.

Further, we don’t usually have to pack up for the boys to go to their dad’s until after school on the Fridays they are heading there, but the day had become complicated enough that we needed to take care of that this morning as well. Do you have your stuffed animals? Remember your clarinet – but I don’t have band! – but you will next week!! When it was time to be picking up the other kids and my boys still didn’t have their coats, socks, or shoes on, the fish hadn’t been fed, and we were generally in a very unready state, we all got a bit tense.

As we sat in the car waiting for the other kids to come out, we watched the rain slide down the windows and listened to Baxter’s 70s and 80s Pandora station. I looked at the kids and said, “Oh, man, I don’t think you guys ever brushed your teeth this morning, did you?” Both of them shook their heads a bit guiltily and I sighed a little.

And then Lyle, with a mischievous grin, threw my own words back at me, declaring, “Well, like you always say, we should be grateful for what we do have!” I laughed with him about it, but then we did just that. Listing all that we had managed to accomplish between 6:15 and 7:30am, our moods shifted. We’re all showered and dressed…we ate…we all have lunches…the pets got fed…we packed your bags for Daddy’s…homework is packed…we remembered that pillow left at the sleepover party for you to return at the 8th grade potluck tonight…two field trip forms are completed…and we aren’t even that late. The list was long and impressive.

How easy it is in this busy life to focus on the small mistakes, the things we’ve left undone, day in and day out. As we head into Thanksgiving week, this was a lovely reminder to be sure that what we say aloud isn’t always that one thing we got wrong, the small mistake, but instead to stop and be grateful for all that we have and all that we manage to do each day.

13!

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Dear Baxter,

Once upon a time, on a beautiful, sunny November day in San Francisco, a gorgeous baby boy was born. He was big and strong and dove into the world, hands first, like Superman. Over the years he grew rapidly and brought so much joy to everyone around him, no matter where he went. He was curious and bright and chatty: a real “questiony guy”, as he described himself when he was three. He was also kindhearted and easy-going, with an open, non-judgmental perspective. He was a hard worker without being especially driven. He was also good company and had a killer sense of humor.

Today, on your thirteenth birthday, you are still all of those things; they are your core, the foundation of who you are and who you will always be.

But let me tell you a little bit more about who you are this year. Now, sweet boy, you are within an inch of my height. You have a dark mustache that you are very proud of and refuse to shave. Your voice is so deep that I continue to think Lyle is talking to a man in another room and I cannot figure out who it could be, until I realize once again with a start that it’s you. When your voice cracks, which it’s now doing less and less, you call attention to it in a light-hearted way, mimicking it, and laugh it off. Speaking of laughing, you are hilarious. Your sense of humor is quite sophisticated and your love of puns keeps us all smiling. You make fun of me, but gently, and in a way that allows me to laugh along with you at how ridiculous I am. We watch The Daily Show together and laugh ourselves silly. You continue to be most fascinated by science and math, and recently announced that you would be a particle physicist when you grow up. You had hoped to have your birthday party at Fermilabs, which we couldn’t quite pull off so Oma and Pops took you there for the day instead. Every time you talk about your trip there your face lights up. You have requested that our dear friend Michele make you “standard model of particle physics” cupcakes this year for your party (good luck with that, Michele…). I’d be lying if I said I knew what you were talking about much of the time – you’re light years ahead of me, kiddo.

Baxter, you are easy-going and positive. You don’t complain about school work or homework or other people.  If you ever make a face or say something mildly negative about someone I pay great attention, because it is that rare. You are weathering the storm of the high school search with good humor and without drama; you seem to know as well as I do that you’ll be just fine, wherever you go.

I know there’s a part of you that longs to stay 12, to be a kid for just a little bit longer before entering these teenage years. It’s true that the years ahead won’t always be easy, but no one ever promised that to any of us, not at any age, Sweetheart.  And I guess what it all comes down to, my wonderful boy, is that you really will be just fine wherever you go. I believe in you: your smarts, your smile, your even temper, your humor, your openness.

A couple years ago you declared to me that you believe in “peace, love, awesomeness, and impossibilities” and I still think of this often because I don’t think there’s a better way to move through the world than that.

As you enter your teenage years I wish you exactly that: peace, love, awesomeness, and impossibilities. I love you very much and always will.

Happy 13th, Baxter.

Love,

Mommy

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

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!) 

The Old One-Two

I love it when my kids hit me with the “old one-two”. Lyle appears with this funny little drawing of an “up and down” man, and Baxter looks at it over my shoulder and comments seriously, “He’s probably bipolar.”