Fourteen.

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You know what nobody tells you when your kids are little? It’s this kind of amazingly magical secret thing, but kids become even better versions of themselves every year.

It’s like, you take all the great things about them, all these qualities that make your heart swell with love and pride when they’re tiny, and the great things don’t ever go away. The great things – get this – actually just keep growing.

Baxter, today you are 14. I want to let that sink in a minute: 14.

You may remember this as the year you started high school at Lane and kicked some serious freshman ass and made a bunch of great friends. Or maybe you’ll think of it as the year you and Lyle and I moved out of our condo in Rogers Park and then you and Lyle and your Dad moved back into it seven weeks later because it still hadn’t sold. While this is a truly bizarre fact, we are finding the humor in it. Like I said, it’ll spice up your memoir someday, or at least give you good fodder for therapy. I love when you do an impression of your future self trying to explain the transitions of these last couple years to someone; you take it in stride and already have enough perspective to see the humor in it.

But beyond all that, I want to remember the small things. The day to day with you. I want to remember the way you walked to catch a bus on your first day of high school with your arms outstretched to the trees, never looking back. I want to remember how well you tackled your initial anxiety over the transition to a school of 4,300 kids with a tight bell schedule, crowded halls, and a strict late policy. How you are finding your way all over this huge city, getting yourself to the orthodontist or a haircut after school on the CTA. How responsible you are, how you get your homework done well and on time so that I don’t even think about it. I want to remember that you wore your bright blue fleece stegosaurus hat – that hat I bought you in first grade, with the scales across the top and a long tail that draped down your back? – to high school the other day. That dinsosaur’s tail was a lot longer when you were six, let me tell you. You never fail to be comfortable being yourself.

I know I will remember how hilariously funny you are at 14 but I insist on writing it down here anyway. You are growing up on Jon Stewart and Monty Python, on Jim Gaffigan stand-up bits and Internet memes that make no sense. We began watching Arrested Development together last summer and you love to walk through a room dropping a line to leave me laughing in your wake. You tell me you do Gob Bluth imitations at the lunch table. Does anyone get the references? I ask, laughing. Usually not, you tell me, not caring. You went to school dressed as George Michael Bluth on Halloween but then switched to Annyong at night.

When I asked you in the car the other night if you and Lyle liked our new apartment as much as I did, you said quickly and earnestly, I do. I really like it. And then immediately followed this up with your uncanny impression of a lovestruck Luke Skywalker telling Princess Leia, I care. And when I howled with laughter over this quote done so perfectly (again), you even more hilariously compared my overreaction to Lucille Bluth’s explosion of laughter every time she sees Gene Parmesan, thereby making me laugh even harder.

You’re smart, you’re quick, you’re funny, and you’re a super great kid. You don’t give me a moment’s worry. I love you. Happy Birthday, Sweetheart.

Love, Mom  xoxo

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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.

Bedtime

At their insistence she climbs nightly into the lower bunk, squeezed in with the younger one and complete insanity ensues. The kind where the high schooler is laughing so hard up above that he snorts several times and the 5th grader is his most outrageously hilarious self, making her cry with laughter. She tries to extract herself when it gets late but is held there by a small arm curled around hers and pleas to stay, promises that they’ll be quiet and go to sleep, and then within seconds a silly phrase and now another round: peals of screaming laughter reminding her of every raucous sleepover party she ever went to as a kid. Except these nights are even better because laughing like this in a bunk bed with her own two boys, there’s no grown-up telling them to stop.

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.

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

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