Monday, September 18, 2017

To my first on his thirteenth

Dear John,

You are a teenager now, and nobody told me this would happen. They said, "Time flies" or "You'll blink and he'll be grown" or "Savor it ... pretty soon he'll be gone and you'll wonder what happened!" And I rolled my eyes and thought, "Yeah right. They don't have to live with it."
The truth is that in raising children, the moments are long but the years are short. And now thirteen of them have disappeared. Now you only have to endure five more years of torture from us before you flap away.

When you were smaller, I used these letters to record all of your changes and growth. These days, there is certainly growth, but it is harder to document because it is subtler, more nuanced ...  much more difficult to describe. For one thing, there's your hair, which has always been amazing, but now you seem to have opinions about it much much more than ever before. You have recently gone from long, to medium, to short in a matter of a month. Now it is short and apparently needs a certain product called "Bedhead Manipulator" that comes in a 2-ounce tub for $20. You're 13, and we spend $10/ounce on your hair products. That's love, buddy.

You have a couple of jobs (mowing lawns) which earn you a little money, and generally you do not complain too much about this work. But we are still trying to tame the drama surrounding the chore of emptying the dishwasher.

 And the drama around photos.

 And the drama around eletronics.

 And the drama around haircuts.

 And the drama around ear drops/ear doctors.

Where did you get all this dramatic flair (and hair)? 😉

Lately, you have wanted me to scratch your back before bed. We no longer read stories anymore because you have long been reading on your own, but I miss that. It is, however, making me treasure that time with your brother, so I guess I'm learning something from being your mom. I have been saying yes to this back-scratching request because I know that the time when you will want me around is fleeting, so I'm trying to savor it. 

 John -- your dad and I are SO proud of you. As I wrote in your birthday card ... we love you AND we like you! Here is a poem that in many ways encapsulates what I want to say to/about you ... just ignore the bits about portobellos, activism, and being a pescetarian and look for the similarities, including a love of raspberries, a history of hair changes, and my efforts to keep you alive.

Happy 13th birthday John-John! Don't flap away too quickly.

All my love,

Hours Days Years Unmoor Their Orbits

Rachel Zucker
tonight I’m cleaning baby portobellos
for you, my young activist

wiping the dirty tops with a damp cloth
as carefully as I used to rinse raspberries

for you to adorn your fingertips
before eating each blood-red prize

these days you rarely look me in the eye
& your long shagged hair hides your smile

I don’t expect you to remember or
understand the many ways I’ve kept you

alive or the life my love for you
has made me live

About This Poem

“I wrote this poem for and about my oldest son when he was about nine years old and had decided to become a pescetarian after reading a book about the meatpacking industry. My son is now about to turn eighteen and will leave for college this summer. We are still dancing the beautiful, painful dance of mother-child separation and attachment, different steps, different haircuts, same love.”
—Rachel Zucker

Friday, June 02, 2017

To my 2nd on his seventh and a half

Dear Sam,

Happy 7.5 buddy! I failed to get a letter out to you on your actual 7th birthday, so this will have to suffice. I want these letters to be a Yearly You Review. So, here we go.

Well, first of all, you’re the best 7.5 year old ever. Especially if we’re measuring by wit, charm, snuggliness, size of inappropriate vocabulary, etc. You have had such an awesome year in first grade -- so much better than kindergarten. For a long time I was worried about not hearing from the teacher because we never got update emails. I was afraid to contact her and ask how it was going. I wanted to believe no news was good news … and it was! It’s like you just figured it out. It’s no fun to act out and get in trouble in school, and you came to that conclusion on your own, and we are SO proud of you for that. Some adults are still figuring out what types of behaviors to avoid in order to stay out of trouble, so you’re well on your way, love.

One of the things that your dad and I love best about you, Sam, is that you get really into the things that you do. For example, you love baseball so much. You love every position you play, and it is so much fun to watch you.  You don’t love school, but you’re proud of your reading ability, art work, friends, games learned at PE, new books from the media center, etc. And at home, your Lego creations are out of this world. You’ll make something and then say, “Look mom! This looks like it came from a box … with directions!”

Seven-year-old you is very practical. This week that I’m writing to you is your last week of first grade. On the first day of the last week, I asked if y’all were doing any work or if you were just playing this week, and you replied, “We have a crap ton of word searches. Like, three a day.” The practicality comes out in your attitude about attending baseball practice, school, having necessary medical procedures (e.g., blood draws -- you just stick out your arm), etc. And when dad tells one of his crazy stories, you can tell the difference between the real and the imaginary. You aren’t gullible. You can tease and be teased, and I love that about you.

You and I have done a lot of artsy events this year, and I have cherished that time with you --The Nutcracker, two plays, and all of our movie nights. We have also made more than a few visits to Dairy Queen and Orange Leaf.

You and your dad have a very special bond too, and we both get such a kick out of the fact that you say you want to live with us forever. One night you had a nightmare, and you came downstairs and crawled in between me and dad. I asked if you wanted me to go back upstairs with you (because you do love your bed!), and you said, "Well, thanks mom, but since I'm already here, I think I'll just make a spot."

You have definitely made a spot on our hearts Sweet Sam. We could not be prouder of you or more in love with your snuggliness, fiestiness, and life commentary. You can live with us for as long as you want, love -- you will always be our baby.

With all my love,

Thursday, October 27, 2016

To my first on his 12th

Dear John,

Every year, my letter gets later and later because every year I have to consider more carefully to discern what is the best way to say happy birthday to someone who has very likely changed my life more than any other person on the planet. It is now October 27th, a full 5 weeks after your 12th birthday, and I’ve waited long enough, so, I guess I’ll keep it simple and just say, “Happy 12th birthday!” (I’ll leave off my new pet name for you in an effort to save your reputation.)

POOKY BEAR! (sorry.)

During and after my pregnancy with you, everybody around us said, “This is baby is special” or “It’s a boy, and he’s lucky; I feel it!” We thought perhaps people said this to all people starting families, but usually it wasn’t just passing chatter. These people knew that you were special and/or lucky, and they had specific reasons:
  • your name had special meaning
  • your birth date was lucky
  • it was fortunate that a bird had pooped on my head during my pregnancy because that’s considered extra special good luck in Africa
  • You would bring us out of our joblessness (and truly, your dad found a job in the delivery room of the hospital where you were born), etc. etc.

And even now you do seem to have some “lucky duck” super power. You have many times been randomly placed on sports teams that are highly successful, you got into the Spanish immersion school in Nashville even though we didn’t live in that neighborhood, and of course there is the “Parking Fairy” situation, wherein every time I’m with you, we get a parking spot that could rival even the motorcycles or differently abled.

But really John, you are the amazing parking spot we landed 12 years ago. We have moved numerous times since then, and you have had some moments of not seeming so amazing (haven’t we all?), but you still make us feel pretty lucky. Nevermind that you are in the throes of some weird 6th grade/ tween desire to seem idiotic and angry … I still think you’re clever, and I know that you’re happy even though you often seem full of angst. Some of that is age-related, but some of that is, unfortunately, inherited from me -- like our proclivity for agonizing over decision making and worrying too much about what other people think. But those are few and far between. Most of the time we have to tell you repeatedly to stop whistling or singing because you happily bop around the house clueless to other forms of human life, just in your own world -- and that world seems relatively peaceful and content. When it’s not, and you are disturbed, you are starting to recognize it more and be conscious of the disturbance. And that’s how I know that you are growing up. Because little kids are less aware … they just act in order to get their needs met (appropriately or not). But I am starting to see forethought before you act and analysis afterward, and that is simultaneously beautiful and terrifying.

Here are a few of the things that you find particularly disturbing at this stage of your life, and I think you’ll see that these truly run the gamut from childhood fears to grownup stressors:
  • Anything your brother says
  • Anything your brother does
  • Any way your brother looks at you
  • Any noise your brother makes (I won’t go on, I think you can see the pattern)
  • Mondays
  • Obligations
  • My calling you pet names POOKY BEAR
  • Puke
  • The idea that people puke
  • The idea that there are germs out there that cause people to puke
  • The fact that you have to live in a house with people who might be carrying germs that cause people to puke.
  • Band
  • Getting locked out of the house (sorry, bud!)
  • The closet door and what’s behind it
  • Ventriloquists’ dummies  
  • Your very own collection of Nutcrackers, which has now been removed from your room
  • Clowns, not surprisingly
  • The following questions:
    • “Do you have homework?”
    • “How was school?”
    • “Did you brush your teeth?”
    • “Have you washed your hands?”

And here are some things you LOVE, which tow the line between childhood and adolescence:
  • Video games
  • Reading the same books repeatedly:
    • Wimpy Kid
    • Big Nate
    • Sisters
    • Far Side comic compilations
    • Guinness Books (yes plural) of World Records
  • Anything Nike
  • Expensive socks
  • The idea of owning more electronics
  • Drones
  • Nerf guns
  • Your GoPro camera
  • Sleepovers
  • When your brother sleeps in
  • When your brother has a playdate
  • Mandarin oranges
  • Ham and salami sandwiches with jalapenos, purple onion, lettuce, tomato, and honey mustard
  • The idea of a pet dog, cat, bird, ferret, rat, or pot-bellied pig
  • Nanny’s pies
  • Packages from Macy
  • Breakfast at Panera (you always order a breakfast quiche/souffle and a scone)

So overall, I think that you are, as always, both exactly where you should be and, in our opinion at least, WAY beyond. We love you even when you have those drama fits, we are proud of you even when you whine about how running sprints at soccer is RUINING your life, we are happy for you even when we yell across the house for you to PLEASE PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF PETER PAUL AND MARY STOP WHISTLING MEGHAN TRAINOR SONGS ON REPEAT. We wouldn’t trade your lucky duckness for anything, and I can’t wait to see what it brings you next.

With all my love,

p.s. I am amazed by your vocabulary. Just in the last week, I’ve heard you use: gullible, assemble, modify, sensitivity, and lag!

Friday, January 15, 2016

To My 2nd on his 6th (or, at least within two months of it)

Dear Sam,

Happy 6th, My Little! We are as proud as you are for surpassing the age of "babies." Yay you!

 Now, go back to your old self; you know, the one that was a baby and rode on my back and yanked at my hair and woke me up all night and stole my heart. Past tense. :-(

Actually, you still have my heart, I let you ride on my back when we're hiking, and even though you're not a hair-yanking baby anymore, I don't mind that you wake me up in the night (about once a month week). Moreover, you still have my heart, and I will not EVER ask for it back (*note future tense).

Not even if the emails from the principal continue. My favorite from-the-principal email subject lines have been, "a kissing incident" and simply, "behavior."

(I know that verb tenses are the last thing on your mind, but notice them anyway: regrets in the past; hopes/promises for now and always).

Sam, right now you are a study in contrast: Our most cuddly kid but also our most volatile. You struggle with impulse control, especially in high-emotion situations. Luckily, I am relatively understanding, and your dad has lots of experience managing high-needs kids and adults at work and at home

So, I want to make the rest of this positive and about YOU (which is hard for me, Love: I like to spin things with hyperbole and negativity by default). However, for you, I'm making an exception ...

The 6 year old Sam I know is confident, analytical, and curious. I think the confidence part is overriding the others at this point, but we know that it will eventually serve you well, and thus we make attempts to revere it. You love to play games -- chess with "Dadda," John, our kidsitter, Grampy; GO FISH and  OLD MAID with all of us, MEMORY with Macy, JENGA with Nanny and Grampy --  your scope of work is dizzying, truly!  The only advice I'll give you about improving this aspect of your free time is that you should probably consider alternatives to "You're cheating!" when competitors seem to be getting the best of you.

Your analysis of everything (complete with exemplary hand gestures) is something that I would be remiss to overlook, so I definitely want you to know that you are constantly considering every angle of every situation. This keeps us on our toes. Most obviously this character trait is presented in your eating habits, so that mostly demands our attention. I know that avoiding "the turkey with the crust" and the soy sauce with the red top is of utmost importance, and I don't take those jobs lightly. Luckily, your dad doesn't either ... especially since he's the grocery shopper. (I'm still working to figure out my superpower).

Finally, Sam, your curiosity is one of my favorite features of you. You want to know what everything means -- from vocabulary to major concepts like death. Recently, I was reading a parenting book called Why Can't You Catch Me Being Good and the author told about how each of her two sons, when they were five, asked her to marry him. I teared up because neither of my two sons had done that. I sat for a long time thinking about that and feeling sorry for myself because whatever I had done thus far in both of your lives had not made you consider me in that manner. And then the next day -- the VERY next day -- we were snuggling after playing a vicious game of air hockey (without the air), and you asked me the same. I nearly melted into the couch cushion. And so, like the writer of the book, I told you that I was already married to your dad and that unfortunately, you'd have to find another girl. You looked so sad and stared up at me with those squinched up eyebrows and said, "But WHY? Why can't you marry me too. I love you too! Not just dad loves you!" 

I know, sweet. I know it even when you scream that you hate me. Because that's how it works with us. We love each other no matter what -- another of your favorite sayings. (The hate thing still stings though, so maybe work on that a little?)

Dadda and I are so proud of how hard you work to be the kid that you want to be. The one who controls himself, uses words not hands, and apologizes, or better yet, doesn't have to. You have us wrapped around your little finger so much so that even when you bring that goshawful rancid blanket ("Sucky") into our bed at 2 a.m., we just scooch over and make way. Even when you then sleep like a Starfish on cocaine, we don't kick you out. The space in our bed and in our hearts has already been made for you, and even though you are not a baby, you'll always be our baby.

With all my love,

p.s.  Y.M.B.C.F.A. (don't tell!)

Monday, October 19, 2015

To My First On His Eleventh

Dear John,

Happy birthday!  I am glad to say that your first personal celebration in Ames, Iowa has followed your very-smooth transition to our new home.  I don't think there any 11-year olds out there that are happier than you (except maybe those without little brothers).  Recently you told me that you feel as if we never even lived in Nashville, and I'm choosing to take that as a sign that you're adjusting quite well.

This birthday was preceded by a summer/fall like no other.  We uprooted from all that you've ever known and attempted to start making a home in a new state.  You seem to like it here, and given that there are about 3.75 boys per block of our neighborhood, I think you're justified in that regard.

If we had stayed in Nashville, you would've been the newbie at a huge middle school ... as it stands now, you're in the senior-most class at your (and Sam's, to your chagrin) elementary school, where there is no Spanish, no homework, a brand new building with a huge gymnasium, and a 5th grade band, in which you are one of the alto saxophone players.  You gave up soccer (hopefully just for this season!) to try your hand at ice skating, which you hope will lead to hockey.  I really would rather you just play soccer, but here I am sitting at the rink watching you and writing this in three layers of clothes.  As with everything, I will always support you, even if it's cold and I worry that my orthodontic investment may not have been so sound.  But I do like to watch you work so diligently to stop, turn, and glide, front and back, with a teacher who looks like an older version of Tonya Harding.  Dad and I have been jokingly calling you "Nancy Kerrigan," but the funny is lost on you.

Though you are happy most of the time, you do have a great deal of angst connected to your relationship with Sam, ever the typical "little brother."  Yesterday morning while waiting on the carpool pickup, you and he we're arguing about who should "get to" water my fall-front-porch mums.  He was adamant that there were two mums and two kids, but you were adamant that the original chore was yours.  Fair enough: We settled on an agreement wherein both children "got to" water the mums (reader, I know: I'm brilliant ... I also get them to eat pancakes with all kinds of hidden gems like ground flax and hemp seeds, but that's another post for another time when it's nobody's birthday).  During Sam's turn to water the mums, you called me over for a "conversation in private" (your words).  Here's how it went:

You:  I'm like furious.
Me:  Why are you so mad? 
You: Sam.
Me:  Can you say more about it?
You:  I feel like I want to yank off his head and punt it to Mars.

Wow.  So, OK, I didn't exactly like the violence, but what amazing descriptive language!

This is not normal though:  Most of the time, you are quite a content kiddo, and this pleases us entirely.  Throughout this last year, I've seen you develop into a truly "big kid."  I can see the shadow edges of adolescence creeping in to darken the door, but right now, you're pretty much just delightful.

Here's a profile of newly 11 year-old JEB:
  • You still love Legos.  For your birthday, Macy and Glendaddy got you a Star Wars set with over 400 pieces, and upon opening you said, "Hmmm, 421 pieces.  That should take approximately an hour and a half to knock out."
  • You also love electronics.  Nanny and Grampy got you a "quadcopter" drone with a camera, with which you spend hours recording our neighborhood.  This has led to some interesting discussions about privacy.
  • Your adoration of wheels continues.  You seem to live on your bike during daylight non-school hours, and you love to build elaborate Hot Wheels race tracks for your brother (elaborate meaning, for example, a track that cascades down the stairs into the basement, through a loop, and catapults the cars into the recycle bin).
  • Your reading skills are fine, but your teacher, Dad, and I wish that you expand your repertoire a bit (which means, anything except Diary of a Wimpy Kid).
  • You have friends galore.  Just on our street, there are Caleb, Max, Ellio, Nico, and just a couple blocks away are Jonathan, Caden, and Elias.  We've been allowing you to bike to their homes as long as it's before 6 p.m.
John, there are so many fascinating qualities of your 11-year-old self, but quite possibly the one that takes the cake is your new ability to see other people (and their feelings/emotions) as separate from your own.  This is such an important life skill buddy, and as I navigate our "everyday" with you, I see that you're developing into a caring individual who considers others even when it's inconvenient.  THAT is WJWD!

To illustrate, I'll conclude with this final anecdote:  Recently we downloaded Minecraft for your to play on my tablet computer.  It's something you've wanted for awhile.  It's perfect for you and your engineering mind.  But I started to notice that after you had played it and transitioned to another activity, you were agitated.  So after one particularly extreme incident (involving your brother, no surprise), I sent you up to your room to quietly reflect on what had happened.  After about 15 minutes, you came down, calm and even-keeled.  You proceeded to inform me that the problem is this:  After playing Minecraft (or other involved games), your brain continues to think about strategy.  And so basically anything that anyone says to you immediately post-game is an interruption of that strategizing, and it is met with agitated response.

BINGO.  Even I, with my hyper-analytical mind, had not come up with such a specific and ideal explanation of what was happening.  I had told you that I thought you were having trouble "transitioning from the screen world into the real world" but that I didn't know how to fully explain it.  That kind of self awareness is something that I've rarely, if ever, seen from you in 10+ years.  It's clearly a reflective skill marking a developmental milestone, and I'm so proud!  It feels similar to when you grew those amazing bottom teeth in your first year of life, and I documented them here as well, proudly. 

John-John:  Every year I think that you have become a cooler kid.  By the time you are 18 and ready to leave for college (OH GOSH: that's only 7 years away!!!), you'll be off the charts.  You came out of the womb a 9.5/10 (APGAR), and you're doing a bang-up job of maintaining your excellence in all of the important categories. 

We cannot WAIT to see what you do with all of your energy, ingenuity, self-awareness, and passion (as long as it does NOT involve punting your brother -- or any of his main body parts -- to Mars).  My daddy used to tell me that I was his "pride and joy," and I probably rolled my eyes ... but you, Buddy, are definitely my current definition of pride and joy, and I love watching you discover who you are becoming (and announce it to us) because it inspires me to be the kind of mom that can best support your efforts.

With all my love, hugs, and meat-finding fingers (I LOVE our inside joke!),

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Current Subtopics of My Life (DRAFT VERSION)

I started this post MONTHS ago and never finished it.  Now I can't remember the parts that I've left unfinished, but for purposes of posterity, I'm posting what I had started:


I am always trying to get my students to notice the subtopics in their reading.  Very often, noticing a good heading (subtitle/topic, etc.) is a quite effective reading strategy for complex material.  So with that in mind, tonight I shall try to update you on the Subtopics of Our Lives (runner up title for the "Day of Our Lives" soap opera, I'm sure).

Soccer Season
One of the predominant aspects of fall for me is now soccer.  I grew up associating it with football, but soccer is so much healthier, methinks.  Most crashing into one another leads to penalty, and no helmets are involved.  I do still worry about the effects of headers, but then again ... there's always something, right?  Do NOT google "headers and concussions" in an effort to educate me, please.  I would like to remain blissfully ignorant for the next two weekends that I must endure this.

Sam and John are both high scorers on their teams.  At Sam's age, this is mostly coincidence (he's one of the biggest and oldest in a league with a wide range of ages), but at John's age -- it's nothing short of completely spellbinding.  I truly cannot believe that I birthed such athletes.

Efforts toward the Education of Our Children
Sam started a new school this fall, mostly out of convenience for his parents.  He seems to be thriving there.  We almost pulled him out because it was so much more expensive than his previous preschool, but then they offered him a "scholarship," and so we acquiesced.  We're so impressionable.  He comes home most days with happy tales of his exploits, and sometimes we get the ever precious morsel about what he has tried at lunch (which is provided by the school and included in tuition/scholarship).  The school is literally across the street from the school where Brian teaches, so Sam spends much less time at a "school" now.  His most favorite days of the week are "S" days, when he knows he'll be with us instead (Saturday/Sunday = Samdays).

John's 4th grade year has been challenging.  His teachers are pushing the kids to be responsible and independent, which is hit or miss with our 10-year old.  He is working hard through this last year of Glendale.  He truly has to muscle his way through science class in Spanish, but luckily is fine with the math that is presented in Spanish.

Halloween approaches.  I love Halloween for its arbiter of cooler weather, but I hate the expectation of costume wrangling.

Home Life

Other Extracurriculars (piano)

Allergy shots