Jack: Nine years

» 08 February 2015 » In Kids » 2 Comments

Dear Jack,

You’re nine now. That’s halfway to 18. We’re making the turn and heading for the back nine, the final years of your childhood. It doesn’t seem possible that the baby I held in my arms just moments ago is now the boy running down the basketball court, the soccer field, the baseball diamond and the tennis court. The boy playing songs from the radio on the piano. The boy reading Harry Potter on his own and constructing LEGO sets and playing Xbox and making us laugh.

This last year has been one of genuine surprise. You’ve mellowed (slightly) from the ball of energy you’ve always been. Little by little, we’ve seen the maturation happen. You’ve developed more empathy, more sympathy and more understanding that the world doesn’t actually revolve around you. You ask thoughtful questions, make interesting observations and genuinely want to know what makes things work.

I’ve always said I could see the wheels turning in the brain of yours, but now, more than ever, I can. You do long division in your head, you can think three moves ahead in chess, you’re actually starting to understand that changing one small thing can result in huge differences down the road. You like to help fix things and often ask to tag along when grandpa and daddy are working on home improvement projects.

You’re (mostly) helpful around the house and with your sisters. You are patient with Maeve, teaching her different things, playing less roughly and helping her when she struggles. But you’re also impatient with Emmie when you want to lord it over her that you’re bigger, faster, stronger and have learned more in school than she has. But you’re also willing to play video games with her, to explore with her, to put on nonsense performances and skits with her.

This was the year your sports fandom exploded. You wake up every morning and the first thing you do is check online for the results of the Blackhawks, the Bulls, the Cardinals or the Bears. You’ll watch sports on TV all day if we let you, often begging to stay up “just until the end of the game!” This year your true obsession was the Blackhawks and you couldn’t get enough of them. Our house is overrun with Hawks gear and you even asked Santa for tickets to a game for Christmas. Lucky for you, Santa came through with club-level seats and a parking pass. I think it was the best night of your life. But it’s not just watching, but playing, too. Your soccer game has really come up a level this last year as you get bigger and stronger, better coordinated as you grow into that tall frame. Your soccer coach said one of your best qualities is that you’re aggressive and you have endurance, two things I feel are actually handy life skills off the pitch as well. But you like baseball and basketball just as much as soccer and I think you really enjoy being part of a team, of having the shared camaraderie and experience of just joking around on the bench sometimes.

But you’re also still so attached to us. You want to hang out with us, want to be around us. You’ll still cuddle up with me on the couch when we’re watching TV or when we’re reading at night in your room before bed. You come out of school searching for my face, smiling when you lock eyes with me. A few more years and that won’t be the case, so I’m enjoying it while I can.

This is your last year in your current classroom, a place you’ve spent the last three years. I know you’re anxious about moving up next year, having a different teacher and different friends. But I think you’re ready. I think the challenge and the fresh start will be good for you. It will be scary and you’ll be nervous, no doubt, but you’ll do fine. All you third-graders know each other anyway. It’s just a different group of kids to spend the day with.

After watching how much you’ve changed and matured from eight to nine, I can’t wait to see what happens from nine to 10. And then I stop and think about the fact you’ll have completed the first decade of your life. And that’s just absolutely crazy. You grew two-and-a-half inches in six months last year and you’re up to my shoulder now. The day isn’t that far off when I’ll be looking up at you. But for now, you’re still my little boy. The one who made me a mom nine years ago. The one who brings a smile to my face and exasperation to my brain and love to my heart. I can’t wait to see what nine has in store for you, and for us.

Love,
Mommy

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Emmie: Seven years

» 16 January 2015 » In Kids » 2 Comments

Dear Emmie,

I think there must be a mistake because there is no way you are seven. Three? Sure. Five? I can see that. But seven? No. Just no. But alas, tis true. I can see seven in you every day, although there are some days where I see seventeen in you and that makes me want to shake my fist at the sky.

What a year this has been. The biggest change for you was that you left your beloved Room 109 after three years and moved on to a new room with a new teacher and new friends. You were ready, oh-so-ready for first grade, but I think a little apprehensive as well. The first week of school you cried every night that your tummy hurt and you couldn’t sleep. I deduced it was nerves and your body’s way of working out the stress. And then, just like that, it stopped and you were fine.

First grade has been amazing for you. You’re learning new things in new ways with new teachers and kids surrounding you. No more being the big kid, you’re back to being the first-year kid in a three-year class, which isn’t something you remember so well. But the addition of the older kids means you have peers that challenge you and push you to work harder. Your reading is off the charts and your math isn’t far behind. You read the entire Little House series on your own this year, as well as countless other books that are well above your grade level. And you can’t get enough of them, which makes the bookworm in me so very happy.

But it’s not just books. You played baseball with the boys this year and showed them a thing or two at the plate. You had an awesome soccer season and honed your skills at camp even further. You school the boys in your basketball league and have scored in every game so far. Your tennis game is on point and we can’t pull you out of the pool once you’re in it. You love piano lessons and have even picked up a few songs that Jack is playing two years ahead of you. And you started chess club this year, which you also seem to really enjoy. If you were applying to Harvard right now, you’d be a shoo-in with your well-rounded portfolio.

When you’re not flitting off to one activity or another (a rarity in our house), you’re obsessed with your Skylanders and Disney Infinity video games. But you’ll sit still and quiet for hours with your iPad playing Minecraft. You’re as equally obsessed as your siblings, all of you playing in each others’ worlds and discussing where to find things and showing off what you’re created. I have to admit, I have no idea what you’re talking about when you excitedly tell about the game, but I nod and smile because you’re just so enthusiastic.

This was also the year we finally forced you to go without training wheels on your bike. One Sunday afternoon we took them off (while you screamed and complained) and within fifteen minutes, you were riding loops around the soccer field and playground in the neighborhood. You were so proud of yourself and we were equally as proud of you. Learning to ride a bike, like other things in your life, meant you needed a little encouragement. Just like when we dragged you kicking and screaming (literally) onto the Space Mountain roller coaster at Disney, you ended up loving it and telling us how it was your favorite thing ever.

Knowing this about you makes life both simultaneously more difficult and easier. More difficult because convincing you to do something is painful, but easier because once we do it, you’re off and loving it without a second thought.

Being our middle child, I always worry about you a little more. I try to make sure everything is fair, that everyone gets the same treatment. But oh, do you make us work for it now. Our cuddly little snuggler now has to be corralled into hugs, cajoled into kisses, begged to sit next to us on the couch. But when we finally convince you to join us in a show of affection, you throw yourself into it wholeheartedly.

You’ve already asked me if you can go to sleep away camp this year. Nice try, but no. Of all our kids, you are definitely the independent one. The one who could care less if we’re there or not. I truly believe if I let you, you would walk yourself to school and book your own plane tickets for solo vacations. But that’s who you are — you do what you want and you really don’t care what other people think. I really hope this carries through to the teen-age years, but we’ll see.

Leaving one classroom and joining another meant you added to your social circle. I say added instead of swapped because you are just as happy having playdates with your new friends as you are having sleepovers with the old. Your teachers say you’re kind and caring, playing and getting along with everyone. I see that at home, too. You’re just as happy playing Minecraft with Jack as you are coloring Fashion Plates or playing Frozen with Maeve. You’re happy to keep the peace, although I’ve seen flashes of brilliance when it comes to manipulating your siblings. You and Jack play mostly nicely, but there’s still a fair amount of physicality, which sometimes you bring on yourself. You and Maeve are usually the best of friends, playing in your rooms with your American Girls or some other nonsense. But your favorite game of the last year, which you’re legitimately good at, is Bananagrams. Kind of like Scrabble, it’s a word game and you excel at it.

This was the year where I felt like you really grew up. I saw a picture of you at three years old this week and I did a double-take because it didn’t even look like you. Chubby cheeks, bangs, mischievous grin. Your legs now go for miles and I often joke I’m not sure how you even stand upright on them. Your face has lost all traces of baby-fat and your bangs are all grown out. You can even pull your own hair back in a ponytail now, a feat you mastered after repeated attempts one afternoon. You have definite opinions about your clothes — you always have — but for now we’re not battling it out. You still prefer dresses and skirts to jeans and T-shirts, and this season you were rocking a pleated leather skirt. Girl’s got style.

Some things never change, though. Practically from birth you’ve loved to make us laugh with your wry observations and dry humor. You love to tell us stories of all kinds, sometimes silly, sometimes serious. That’s the thing with you — you keep us on our toes. We didn’t know if you would be too cool to meet Elsa and Anna at Disney, but you were practically levitating when it was your turn. The look on your face was priceless. And that’s why I love this age — little girl enough to love princesses and big girl enough to have a rational conversation.

The one time of day when you don’t want to push us away, when you actually seek us out is still bedtime. We read together and when we turn off the lights, Daddy or I sit on the edge of your bed and chat for a few minutes. That’s the time when you really tell us what’s on your mind, when I hear about perceived slights or wrongs, when you reveal what you did at school, who you played with on the playground. After you’re asleep, I check on you before I go to bed and that’s when I pause and see the baby you were. Your face slack in sleep, cuddling your pink fuzzy blanket, you look just like the baby you once were. In the half-dark, I smooth the hair away from your face and pull the blanket up around you. I remember the sleepless nights with you, the nursing and the rocking and the shushing and the bouncing. I remember the first smiles and the first steps and the first words. I see it all in your sleeping face and I smile. Because you’re still that baby, still a little girl, no matter how much you want to believe otherwise.

This is going to be an amazing year and I can’t wait to experience it with you. I know our time with you is precious — soon, too soon, you’ll disdain our advice and keep us at arm’s length. So for now, as much as we can and as much as you let us, we snuggle you close and try to point you in the right direction. I can’t wait to see what seven brings you, Em. I know will be amazing and full of flair. Because I expect nothing less from you.

Love,
Mommy

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Maeve: Five years

» 06 December 2014 » In Kids » 1 Comment

Dear Maeve,

As I sit here listening to the Garden State soundtrack, I can’t even believe this same song was playing five years ago today. I was so ready to meet you, the baby who would complete our family. I didn’t know if you would be a Finn or a Maeve, but I knew I couldn’t wait. And neither could you, our girl who burst into the world just three hours after my water broke. You didn’t even make it past the third song, coincidentally titled “In the Waiting Line.” Ironically, you’ve kept us waiting many times since that day.

You walked a little later, talked a little later and slept on your own a little later than your brother and sister. But you’re also the one who has always been eager to cuddle up with us, content to listen to the crazy antics of your siblings. You’re our morning greeter, up with the sun asking if it’s OK to go downstairs and watch a video. There’s still a few nights here and there where you crawl into our bed in the middle of the night and while I should be annoyed, I just move the covers and let you settle between me and Daddy, your little feet constantly looking for a place to tuck themselves under me.

This last year you exploded in growth. It’s like the baby in you disappeared overnight, although I know it was much more gradual than that. You’re totally independent and you remind us every waking minute that you are completely capable of doing things on your own. You brush your own teeth, pick out your own clothes (you still favor jeans, but dresses and skirts are now part of the regular rotation), put your own hair bows in, pack your own school bag, get your own shoes and coat on and could probably walk yourself to school if I let you. You unload the dishwasher and clear the table like a boss and you make a mean bed every morning. You get your own snacks, pour your own milk and know how to wield the TV remote as well as any adult.

But despite all that helpfulness, you’re also our feisty girl who keeps us on our toes. If you don’t like how a game is going, you just pick up the pieces and throw them. If you want the iPad your sister has, you just yank it away from her. If you don’t like being told to do something, you just cross your arms and yell, “You’re stupid.” That one goes over really well, as you can imagine. Your signature move if you’re mad in the car, however, is still to take your shoes off and throw them at us. Good times. But those storms are always fast-moving and over within minutes. I don’t think you’re capable of holding a grudge and you’re usually happily redirected to something else.

This past year you finally dropped the nap and it was both a good and bad thing. You were exhausted for weeks this last summer, but it also made everything so much easier. But that was the last thing you did that made me think of you as a baby. Now? You’re so big. I see pictures of you when you were about 18 months old and I wonder who that chubby girl with the wisps of curl went. Now you’re sprouting up, the toddler tummy I love shrinking, the blonde curls cascading down your back. We still haven’t cut your hair yet, so I guess you still have that one remnant of your babyhood! But that’s probably coming soon as well — when we comb it out, it stretches almost to your waist! But it curls up just below your shoulders, so nobody can even tell. I’m loathe to cut it, scared your beautiful ringlets will disappear for good.

You love to run and chase, you play soccer and baseball and learned to swim without a floatie this year. You ride a big-girl bike with training wheels and took your first ski lessons. You love LEGOs and dolls, coloring and writing and dressing up in various costumes and dresses and you’re a serious whiz at Minecraft. Your favorite thing in school is math, although you’re also full-out reading. You’ve just started randomly telling me things like, “Mommy, four plus four is eight” and you’re so proud of yourself when we confirm that yes, it is.

Your also had your first emergency room visit this year. While we were on the El with friends this summer, you decided you didn’t need to sit facing the correct way and when the train started up, you fell backwards and cracked your head open. You were the lucky first person in the family to make use of the new Children’s Hospital location, getting several staples in your head. That wasn’t a whole lot of fun, but you were a total trooper and very brave. I think the popsicle they gave you helped. (The photo below was taken moments before The Fall!)

While you’e a semi-adventurous eater, vegetables are your kryptonite and you sob when we make you try something new. You beg us to hide it in bread and then immediately demand a chocolate pretzel as a reward for trying it. You love hot dogs (organic, grass-fed because Mommy is a crazy person), Cheerios, pizza, mediterranean food, mac and cheese, cheese sticks, fruit of all kinds and raw spinach. You’ll happily munch on carrots and hummus, but if you even suspect a drop of salad dressing has touched your spinach, you will freak out on us as if we’re trying to poison you. Chill out, sister, nobody’s trying to hurt you with a little sweet Italian dressing.

Your best friend moved away this summer, so you were a little lost when you started back to school, but it was a momentary blip. You thrive in your multi-age classroom, friends with the kindergartners and the three-year-olds alike. You love to be the line leader, to help your teachers and I still live for the moment you come out the door after school, your eyes searching the groups of moms for me and the huge mega-watt smile I get when you lock eyes with me. It never gets old.

You also adore Jack and Emmie. I mean, when you’re not fighting with them over an Apple product. You share Minecraft worlds, play dress-up and dolls, put on plays and have dance parties with them. You beg to have sleepovers with Emmie and love nothing more than play American Girls with her. Jack loves to pick you up and give you piggy-back rides and can convince you to play anything with him. I love watching you all together, and not only because you entertaining each other means I don’t have to entertain you. You three genuinely get along 75 percent of the time, which is pretty good in my book. The other 25 percent? Well let’s just say there’s a lot of hair-pulling, back-smacking and shrieking.

You’ve grown so much this last year, but Daddy and I know how the leap from five to six is even bigger. You’ll start kindergarten this next year! You’ll practically be off to college in my mind. But you know what? As much as I loved the baby Maeve, the one who slept in my arms and babbled and loved to play peek-a-boo, I love big-kid Maeve even more. You love to tell jokes, you have empathy when others are hurting, you make connections. You can reason and make predictions. You were even big enough to see your favorite band, Foster The People, at Lollapalooza last year! But you still hug me and spontaneously tell me you love me. You still want to sit on my lap. You’re still Daddy’s Maevie McMaeverson.

I always say I can’t wait for the next year, but I really mean it. Just keep smiling that smile and flashing those dimples before slaying people with the thoughts inside your head. Keep laughing and chasing your friends on the playground. Keep snuggling with your fuzzy blanket and your Baby Ola. Keep telling us that your “eyes are surprised” to see unexpected things. Keep eating hang-a-burgers for dinner. And keep being you. Because you’re amazing and we love you.

Love,
Mommy

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