Jack: Ten Years

» 08 February 2016 » In Kids » No Comments

Dear Jack,

Clearly this should be a 10.5-year post because that’s when I am actually writing it, but life got in the way this year. And because I didn’t want to end this yearly tradition on an odd number, I figured I better get a 10-year post up so we can end with a nice, round decade of posts. Back-dating is a beautiful thing.


I couldn’t let this momentous occasion pass without comment because WOW has this year been phenomenal. Last summer we spent a month in Europe with you and your sisters and grandparents and it was amazing. We visited France, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Turkey, Montenegro and Greece. We saw ancient ruins, ate our weight in gelato, weathered the worst heat wave in recorded Parisian history, walked hundreds of miles, cruised the Mediterranean on a ship and endured what I can only describe as some of the most hellacious behavior ever. There was plenty of fun, but also plenty of non-fun.

But when we arrived back home and you started fourth grade, it was as if the heavens themselves shone down upon us. You became a different child almost overnight. Personal responsibility? Check. Improved attitude? Check. Empathetic responses to situations? Check. Maturity? Check. I could go on and on. I give mad props to your incredible teacher for this change, but I know in reality that it was you who did the hard work. Everyone told us you would grow up, that you would figure it out. And we waited, sometimes impatiently, for that day to come. And now that it’s here, it’s oh so sweet.


This was also the year you started putting it all together in soccer. In the past, you subscribed to the “power right through them” theory of play, which worked well when you were younger and bigger than the other kids. But now, especially in travel soccer, the kids are good enough to use tricks and footwork to get around you. And suddenly, powering by people wasn’t an option anymore. So you started doing the hard work to get better. And you fell in love with goalkeeping. And that’s when it all clicked for you. People say it takes a special kind of mindset to be a goalie — you need to be able to shake off mistakes, to direct the people in front of you, to trust in your instincts and love being the center of attention. And you’ve harnessed all of those things this season, securing a spot on one of the top teams in your age group for next year. We couldn’t be prouder of you and your efforts — attending up to four practices a week because you want to, not because we make you. It also makes us chuckle that you prefer to be called “Jackson” at sports and we’re the only people who cheer for “Jack” at the fields. We say it’s your sports persona.


Your love of sports doesn’t stop when you step off the soccer field, the baseball diamond, the basketball court or the tennis court. You love to watch the Cardinals or the Bears or the Bulls, constantly checking game highlights and reciting obscure stats to us. But your one true love, the Blackhawks, are the thing you focus on the most. You can tell us stats, scores, averages, injuries and trivia for days. Watching the look on your face when the Hawks won the Stanley Cup in June of 2015, the three of us in the stands at the United Center as the clock wound down, was worth every penny we paid for the tickets. Seeing it through your eyes, how excited and genuinely happy you were, was one of my greatest moments as a parent.

It was a big year for change in school, as I mentioned earlier. You left the comfort of the classroom, teacher and friends you had for three years to move up to the next level. You were nervous — I joke that you looked like a dead man walking on your way to line up on the first day of school — but it was exactly the change you needed. More challenging work, new friends, new expectations. Your math scores are off the charts and your language isn’t far behind. I love watching you work things out in your head, the same look of concentration you had when you were tiny and trying to figure out everything from getting your toes into your mouth to velcroing your own sandals to crossing the monkey bars. There is nothing you can’t do once you set your mind to it.

Your relationship with your sisters has changed as well. You still like to beat the hell out of your middle sister on the regular, but you also can spend hours playing Minecraft or Xbox or LEGOs together. You like to make sure they know who’s boss, to tell them exactly what they’re doing wrong and to make sure we know it as well. But you’re also so good with Maeve, helping her learn things and putting on plays and shows with her.


And then there’s piano, which we truly believe is your Thing, with a capital T. You’ve learned to play real songs this year and killed the school talent show when you played Coldplay’s “Clocks” in front of a hundred people. You practice all the time, to the point where I might be the only mother on earth who yells, “Get away from the piano!” But you love it and it seems to come naturally to you.

This was the year where I saw the first glimpses of the teen-ager you will become. You’re nearly as tall as me now and we wear the same size shoe. You throw down six tacos or half a pizza at a time and can’t get enough fruits and veggies. There are times where it takes my breath away to look at you because I can see exactly the person you will become. I actually had to sit down one afternoon at your baseball game when I spied you from behind, your catcher’s shin guards on, your batting gloves stuffed in your back pocket, your hat on backwards, laughing at something a teammate had said. In that moment, I literally saw the future you and it brought actual tears to my eyes.

But we haven’t lost the little Jack yet. You still hold my hand when we walk places, you still hug me and snuggle up to me on the couch. We still read together at night, that is, when you’re not too busy trying to sneak in some computer time under the guise of “looking something up real quick” before you go to bed. You still watch kid movies and read kid books and like to play outside. You adore your grandparents and love spending time with all of them. You are helpful and thoughtful, silly and sarcastic. You’re learning how far you push it when you’re trying to be funny, which makes for some occasionally tense stand-offs at home. It’s definitely going too far to say, “Listen up, woman” to your mother, believe me.

I’ve always looked forward to the day when I can relax, when I can say my job is done. No more carpools to drive or lunches to make or clothes to wash or soccer bags to pack. But now that it’s on the horizon, I know I will miss it. Which I try to remind myself during the eighth soccer game in 48 hours, during the five-minute standoff over why you have to shower, while the three of you are screaming at each other about who’s job it is to load the dishwasher. But this is truly my favorite age so far, the one where I glimpse who you will be with the memories of the baby you were still fresh in my mind. And while this is the last letter I will write for you, know that I remember everything — your first smile, your first steps, your first day of school, your first goal — just as I will remember your first date, your first car, your graduation, your wedding. You’re forever my baby, forever my little boy, forever my heart.


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Jack: Nine years

» 08 February 2015 » In Kids » 5 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.


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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.


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