As I look back on this past year, I am grateful for all the moments we have had together as a family. Some of them have been big, some of them small, with those little moments often being the most meaningful.
Jeffrey is 12½, in 7th grade and having a great time in middle school. In addition to his usual sports interests, Jeffrey has quite a love for food and a very good palate. The kids made Thanksgiving dinner this year, and Jeffrey’s stuffing and gravy were superb. He is in full throttle pre-teen mode with hormones and attitude, but in keeping with Jeffrey’s personality it’s mostly on the humorous side. Our main battles consist of focusing on homework for more than half an hour at a time, getting to bed at a reasonable hour, which songs he can download, and playing games on his iTouch. A friend showed me a Scrabble app where we could play against each other remotely. My user name is Lady Peptide (a tribute to our college biology class days together). Jeffrey downloaded the app. I was excited – a nice, educational game. You can also play with strangers, and there is a chat feature. (I’m sure you think you know where this is going.) I sent Jeffrey an invite to play assuming he would know it was me. One night I tuck him in (I don’t think you actually “tuck in” 7th graders but there you have it), lights out, door closed. I go downstairs to my office; 15 minutes later my iPhone signals that Jeffrey just made a move. I run back upstairs, upset that we have to go over the “Get your sleep, put away electronics” conversation again. I tell him to stop playing with his iTouch and go to sleep; he asks me how I know he was on it; I said “Because you just made a move on Scrabble!” He sat up in bed and looked at me like he was seeing me for the first time and said awestruck “Are you Lady Peptide??” The look on Jeffrey’s face as if he was discovering his mom’s true identity was very amusing – 12 yr old situation, 5 yr old expression. I was disappointed in this lost opportunity to test his appropriate online usage by trying to lure him with conversation – or see if he uses questionable Scrabble words. I’m thinking of creating another user name – Madame Ribosome.
Eva is 10½, in 5th grade and fulfilling the adage that girls mature earlier than boys. Unfortunately, Eva and Jeffrey are going through the beginnings of puberty together. Feet and legs are growing overnight; it seems as if every 2 weeks we are buying new shoes or pants. Eva can inject drama into almost any daily occurrence, and tears might flow if her ponytail is not at the perfect height and angle. But I have learned not to match her drama with my frustration, and when I calmly say “I used to hate it when that happened to me too”, she usually relaxes. One of my favorite moments with Eva is doing our nails together. She complained about never going to a nail salon, so I told her we could do it at home together, in my bedroom, and she could choose our colors. Selections range from bright, tweeny colors like Cosmic Blue to fun, comical colors like Banana Bama. I’ve gotten all my information about her life in these salon sessions – schoolwork, what’s going on with the girls and boys at school, what she likes about certain kids. My nail color now clashes with every outfit I own (except for the 80’s Flashdance outfit and roller skates in my closet), but I love to look at my hands because it reminds me of our special times together and moments of honesty and revelation. (I’m wearing Pixel Pretty right now.) Another favorite moment with Eva was going out to dinner at a local pizza place. She asked the server if we could sit at the bar because she wanted to watch the Packer game. More insights – her favorite quarterbacks, linemen, what she thinks of Michael Vick, Tom Brady’s hair, why she likes Clay Matthews, why she likes playing flag football at recess, etc. (I’m sure it’s because she flashes her Pixel Pretty nails to immobilize the free safety.) In addition to sports, Eva still loves to sing and has been able to record a few songs with her music teacher. Her recording of “Let It Be” on my iPod is a beautiful gift of herself. It’s like getting two minutes into her soul.
Vivian and Marena are 7½, in 2nd grade and doing well in their 2nd year of Spanish immersion. Their ability to speak fluently, read, and do math problems in Spanish amazes us. We have an au pair from Mexico who arrived in August. Ruth has been so fantastic, helping with all the running around after school. But most importantly, the kids enjoy spending time with her and learning from her. She speaks Spanish to Marena and Vivian, and helps Jeffrey with his Spanish homework. We’re so grateful to have her around! Hearing the girls speak Spanish around the house is very fun, but I will say that whining in Spanish is still as annoying to hear as it is in English. A very big special moment for Vivian and Marena was getting to have a weekend with John last spring – separately. Eva got a night in SF with me for her 10th birthday in February, and Jeffrey got spring break with me skiing in Breckenridge, while John took the three girls to Kauai. So it was their turn for one on one time. Marena went first and decided on Monterey as the destination. Ten minutes after Marena’s departure, the phone rings and Marena asks for Vivian. “We’re in the car on the freeway, what are you doing?” That’s basically how their first day without each other went: Marena used John’s phone to send texts and pictures of an In-N-Out soda, their hotel room, the aquarium, the mini lava lamp she bought – basically chronicling her day. They are so used to sharing their experiences together I think Marena felt a bit lost experiencing such a smorgasbord of fun by herself! The next weekend was Vivian’s turn. She went to Monterey and basically replicated Marena’s trip J. One of the fun moments I have with the girls is driving their school carpool. It is unofficially the Singing Carpool. Five 2nd – 4th graders enthusiastically singing Usher’s “DJ Got Us Falling in Love”, hands up, my Suburban bouncing to the beat. It’s a nice pick-me-up for the Monday morning drive. We also have a rule: “What happens in carpool stays in carpool.”
Vivian is my closet lefty. As a lefty myself, I have always lamented the absence of another southpaw. This fall, I watched with great pride and ecstasy as Vivian got ready for a soccer kick; she took a couple of steps back and kicked hard with her left foot. It was like watching your infant roll over onto their tummy for the first time. Vivian talks a big game, but inside she’s a softy. In preparing for sleep away camp, Vivian was the one who ensured us that she would not be homesick. We were preparing Marena, telling her it’s okay to be sad and giving her some coping skills. But it was Vivian we had to comfort in the cabin as we said goodbye. Marena had all that coaching and prep and happily made up her bunk bed.
Marena is our happy-go-lucky but sometimes curmudgeon-type child. Vivian pops out of bed; Marena needs to be peeled off and dragged out of bed. She is also more vocal about the injustices of being a twin. Marena has no qualms storming off the soccer field mid play with quivering lower lip and yelling “You are only watching Vivian!” They play two games on side by side fields and the coaches split them up so they can tell them apart. I’m a tennis match spectator on the soccer field.
The really big moment for John and I came this past summer. While all four kids spent three weeks at Camp Champions in Texas, we vacationed in Europe. We did a house swap with friends in France, and visited and stayed with friends in Germany and Italy. It was better than our honeymoon! John and I also had a getaway in the spring to Maui as well as to one of our favorite places, Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley. In the fall, I went back to Boston and Michigan, where I went to grad school. 17 years away and much has changed in Ann Arbor; the 30 degree weather has not. John is Executive in Residence at Norwest Ventures, nurturing early stage companies, and helping to guide growth stage companies. Since I am also in the nurturing and guiding growth business, I have decided to take on the title of Executive in Residence as well.
Life in our household these days is a series of “mores” – more food, more laundry, more back and forth arguing. Fighting used to be very simple – words or physical intrusion from one child, tears from the other. Now that they are older, with more developed cerebral cortexes, the arguing can go on incessantly – and everyone wants to get in on the act. An initial fight between 1 & 2 becomes a three-way fight, where at some point the subject of the fight changes and the 4th tries to resolve, but gets mucked up in the fight. Instead of dealing with one fight, I’m dealing with all the combinations. Resolve the fight between 1 & 2, now 1 & 3, then 2 & 3, next 1 & 4, then 2 & 4 and finally 3 & 4. Games involving competition seem to ignite these matrices of arguments. I’m trying to instill the Bill Belichick motto: “When you win say little, when you lose say even less.” So far, no good.
After Christmas, we will be going to Breckenridge, CO. One of the biggest sacrifices I have made as a parent is standing at the base of a 13,000 ft. mountain at 8am waiting for the ski lifts to open in bitter cold weather – when I’d rather be surfing in Kauai. I try clicking my skis together and saying “There’s no place like Kauai, there’s no place like Kauai” but all to no avail. Spring break is just around the corner.
We wish you a wonderful holiday season, and hope that you have many big and small special moments with your loved ones.
John, May, Jeffrey, Eva, Marena, Vivian
Jeffrey, 12 years old
Eva, 10 years old
Marena, 7 years old
Vivian, 7 years old