For those who have been receiving our letters for years (some of you for 16 years), I know what you’re thinking: “Where’s the beach?” This is the first time in 9 years we haven’t taken our holiday picture amidst sand and ocean. This fall has been a time of personal growth for our family – lots of changes and some difficult transitions. So, we stayed close to home and postponed our annual trip to southern CA where we have our picture taken every year.
Jeffrey is 11 ½, in 6th grade and is attending a private school (Menlo School) in Atherton, CA. It was a difficult choice for Jeffrey – between the public middle school where many of his friends are attending, and Menlo, where the classes, teachers, campus, and cafeteria really excited him. Jeffrey has made good friends and is thrilled with his classes. He played fall baseball, flag football, basketball; and he’s going to give tennis a try this winter. Golf is still one of his favorite sports. He attended Stanford golf camp this summer, and came home beaming when he shot an 83 on the Stanford course. A tectonic shift has occurred from boy to pre-teen, which is best evident in our laundry. Instead of finding sticks, rocks, and Legos in the washer/dryer, I discover guitar picks, tees, ball markers, and by far my least favorite parenting duty – worse than handling dirty diapers – is having to remove the protective cup from Jeffrey’s undergarment. Imagining what has taken place during nine sweaty innings on the field and in the dug-out, makes this tactile task almost unbearable. Add to that the unmistakable scent of body odor with just a tinge of Gatorade sweetness when I get a hug from Jeffrey, and my mind is transported back to freshman year, walking through the guys’ wing of our dorm. Jeffrey’s hormonal changes would best be described as verbal rather than emotional. Slapstick humor is the modus operandi. It feels like we are living on the set of Caddyshack, or really any Chevy Chase movie. You can imagine Jeffrey’s reaction when, as an altar boy sitting next to the priest this past Sunday, he heard a bodily noise come from the priest. Watching Jeffrey try to contain his laugh in front of the whole congregation was not a sight a mother envisions as part of her proud Catholic moments. (Think Peter Brady laughing.)
Eva is 9 ½, in 4th grade and has taken the leadership role in our family this fall. She has really stepped up to help out. With Jeffrey transitioning to a new school and Marena and Vivian moving to a different elementary school (more on that below), Eva has been our rock of steadiness during the super hectic mornings of getting to 3 different schools. She gets lunch made for everyone while I make breakfast. If Jeffrey is rushing to get things together before his carpool arrives, Eva will fill a water bottle for him to put in his backpack. With John and I both worried about Vivian and Marena, it has been a relief to have such a positive and supportive presence. This past summer Eva attended Camp Champions for the first time (the 3 week camp that Jeffrey attends). Her packing priorities were much different than Jeffrey’s. The first thing Eva packed was a list of friends’ addresses, a book of stamps and stationery. I don’t think Jeffrey knows what a stamp looks like. Her clothes checklist was methodically looked over; and she packed attire to cover all the different camp life scenarios. Jeffrey threw 5 t-shirts and 6 pairs of shorts in his trunk and called it a day. Eva still plays soccer, basketball, golf and softball. She tried volleyball last spring and really enjoyed it. Her latest hobby is songwriting. Her lyrics are about kids’ heartaches – fitting in, being different, tough team losses; and the melodies are very sweet. Eva has also gotten to be a big sports fan. She and I watch football games on the couch together, and she learned a lot about Cuba watching the ESPN piece on Luis Tiant. The other day we were out to dinner with some families and the flat screen was showing the Steelers/Ravens game. Eva walked over to me and asked with a concerned look “Is Ben Roethlisberger injured?” When I said yes, she wisely nodded her head and said “That’s why they’re losing.”
Vivian and Marena are 6 ½, in 1st grade and have moved to a Spanish Immersion program at a different elementary school. We were offered 2 spots that opened up for 1st grade and decided it would be a great opportunity for the girls who already knew some Spanish. Vivian and Marena thought otherwise. We temporarily stopped the tears by acting as if they had won the golden ticket and taking them to Benihana to celebrate their good fortune. Flying knives and smoke coming out of onion stacks worked wonders. But once school started, their anxiety ran amok.
Marena (I was told this year that they wanted their own paragraph in the holiday letter.) had the most difficult time. Tears before school, before going to bed, requesting to go back to her old school, constantly saying she doesn’t understand anything. Marena’s famous line: “How do you expect me to learn Spanish when I haven’t even mastered English?!?” I got more calls from the school office with Marena in tears, than I had gotten all last year. She started climbing into the top bunk to sleep with Vivian because she was waking up with nightmares of being stuck in an elevator.
Vivian’s transition was a bit easier because she happened to be in class with some girls she was familiar with. But she also had rough moments. One day she came home saying she ate her chicken noodle soup with no spoon. When I asked why she didn’t ask for one, she said, with a look both indignant and sad, “Because I don’t know how to say it in Spanish.” Doubt crept into our thoughts. What if the switch in schools just leads to poor English speaking girls who eat with their hands? It was really hard on John and I to hear and see their sadness.
But, around Halloween, things changed. No more tears, they were laughing, giggling with their classmates, back to their normal selves. And now they are speaking and reading in Spanish, and counting to 100 faster than I could do it in English! Our afternoon nanny, Monse, has been indispensable – helping them with homework and reading to them in Spanish. Once their anxiety about their environment diminished, I think it allowed their brains to finally absorb everything they were learning in school. Part of me also wonders if they feigned incomprehension just in case that would break us down. The girls played basketball, softball and soccer this past year. They also love gymnastics – Vivian does a mean one-handed cartwheel, with Marena proudly showing off her calloused monkey bar hands.
John took a job as CEO of a spin out, called EZShield. He set up an office in Palo Alto, which has been fantastic for commuting and being around the family more often. Because John has had to be an integral part of the morning routine & getting the kids to school, it has helped tremendously that his office is so close. Doing some of the morning drop offs means John had to deal with many of the twins’ anxious feelings at the beginning of the school year. It was not an easy task; and he did it courageously. One day Vivian was about to enter her classroom and could not find her homework. I was taking Eva to school when the call came from John’s cell phone with Vivian crying. She was inconsolable. Comforting over the phone just does not work with a 6 year old, and John quickly learned that. He grabbed the phone and said it’s not a big deal, the teacher told Vivian it was fine and she would be okay. After that incident, John realized that for my sanity, he had to work off this scenario: You have no more timeouts, it’s the last play of your 2 minute offense, defense shifts unexpectedly and you have to call an audible. Make the call. That’s when heroes are made. John is now our morning quarterback, gets the game strategy from the booth and head coach, but often calls his own plays. Occasionally, he gets sacked for a safety. But, overall we have a winning record, especially with Eva taking over the left tackle position. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Bret Favre, Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy, John Herr.
I have been so focused this fall on getting everyone settled into their new environments, I haven’t had a lot of time for anything new. With 3 different schools and PTA/classroom volunteer activities, 8 carpools and YMCA board duties, it has been busy. But, I have had some fun highlights of the year. During our annual spring break trip to Kauai, I took surfing lessons with Eva. In August, Jeffrey and I got to take batting practice at AT&T Park with some former Giants players. I hit off Vida Blue and caught every fly ball he hit to me. In October, I flew to Arizona for a night with a few friends to see a U2 concert. We were as close to the stage as I have ever been – and for those who know me well, I have been to a few of their concerts :). John and I spent a long weekend in Napa in November with college friends. I ran the Nike half-marathon, thinking I would walk since I had not trained at all (obviously not smart). But, with my past knee problems, I was really excited that I was able to run it.
We will be celebrating Christmas at home, as usual. Then we will fly to Florida, stay with my parents in Marco Island and spend time with both sets of grandparents. We wish you all a wonderful holiday season.
John (QB1), May (GM, head coach), Jeffrey (team mascot), Eva (LT), Vivian (WR), Marena (RB)
Jeffrey, 11 years old
Eva, 9 years old
Vivian, 6 years old
Marena, 6 years old