This is the time I sit back and reflect on the past year. Although part of me dreads adding this task to my bottomless list, I always step away from the finished letter feeling deeply grateful. These holiday letters started out as a way for us to share our new life as newlyweds 3,000 miles away from family and friends. As much as I was excited about our new life, it felt like we were on an island, and these letters were our way of saying “We are still with you”. Now 18 years, 8 jobs, 6 moves and 4 kids later the island has become a galaxy. Sometimes the Herr world is all I know, but thankfully Skype, Facetime, or a good old-fashioned plane can transport us to be with loved ones. There are times when we get lost in the black hole of school, activities, carpools, and work obligations. But, whether we see you every day, every year or every decade, the purpose of these letters is the same. We are still with you.
Jeffrey is 13½, in 8th grade and enjoying his last year of middle school. He says this is the best year yet. 7th grade was a big year, trying to perfect his study skills and figure out which strategies work best. Up until then, Jeffrey was always able succeed without too much effort. The realization that he could no longer study for 10 minutes, shoot some baskets, study for another 10 minutes and then break for food was very tough on his cerebral cortex, his stomach – and my patience. Now that he’s got it mostly figured out, 8th grade is that much more enjoyable. We’re still working on procrastination and immaturity. (This last one may be a lost cause, assuming he takes after John.) Basketball, baseball and golf still fill his calendar. Jeffrey had a summer to remember. In June he spent 3 weeks in Chile with his Spanish teacher and 8 other kids. They stayed at a farm, participated in service projects, stayed with a Chilean family, and did some sightseeing. In July he spent 3 weeks in France with his good friend, Tristan, and his family who live in Fontainebleau. They vacationed in Brittany; went sailing, hiking, digging for clams, and ate (a lot). He learned so much about French culture, and we are thankful for his incredible experience. Jeffrey now believes we should sit down for afternoon tea, and that all sunbathers should not have to wear any clothes. Like I said, it’s a lost cause.
Eva is 11½, in 6th grade and attending middle school with Jeffrey. She loves school and has made some great friends. Eva still plays volleyball and soccer; and is still passionate about singing. Her songwriting has become more prolific; and she has recorded two of her songs. Eva has no hesitancy or inhibitions interacting with others. This becomes quite an asset during carpool pick up when trying to get Jeffrey to leave the group of boys lingering around the 8th grade lockers. Since there is an invisible magnetic field around the quad of the campus, and an unspoken norm that parents do not cross that barrier; I enlist Eva’s help. When I ask her to get Jeffrey, she waltzes over casually greeting the 8th graders in the monikers Jeffrey uses for his friends – “Hey Frosty, hey Thabit, like your shirt Ryan, Jeffrey let’s go Mom’s waiting”. I wouldn’t be surprised if she left the group, initiating fist bumps to the salutation: “Roll Tide”. (see Alabama Roll Tide Commercial on YouTube). Eva still loves to watch football, and had fun explaining the game to our au pair, Ruth during Thanksgiving.
Marena and Vivian are 8½, in 3rd grade and feel they have the right to do everything their older siblings do. They sing Katy Perry and Eminem songs. They know words they shouldn’t and slang words that I don’t know. (I have to ask Jeffrey what certain words mean; and he enjoys making up definitions that offend my sensibilities.) The girls want to play club sports, and they are frustrated that sports bras are not made in their size. Their Spanish fluency continues to grow because of immersion school. Their brains “think” in Spanish on a daily basis. They write the numerical date with the day first, then month; they spell taquitos correctly, but misspell potstickers when helping with the Costco list; and when playing Stack the Countries, they asked me which country is north of Hamika. I said I didn’t think there was a country named Hamika. Then they showed me the little country in the Caribbean, and I said “Oh… you mean Jamaica!” I could see their brains do a mental switch to English as they reread the word. The girls were excited to participate in their first twin study at Stanford. One was to be given the flu mist, the other a flu shot. Their big incentive – $150. The nurses made them feel special, telling them how much they were contributing to science. But, when the coin flip determined that Marena would get the flu shot; she watched in misery as Vivian got a harmless little nose spray, and she had to endure the shot. I did not redistribute the compensation amounts, but Marena got a couple packs of Sour Patch Kids. Their closeness is sometimes jarring and always amusing. During an outing for ice cream, I videotaped them licking their cones very methodically. After about 5 licks, Marena slowly leans over and tries to lick Vivian’s cone without a misstep as if it was the 6th lick of her cone. Vivian backs away and continues to lick hers, but then she does the same thing to Marena. They did not seem to recognize a distinction between each other’s cones. It seemed natural for them to lean over mid-lick.
Marena is very sentimental and sensitive. For the second summer she and Vivian attended 3 weeks at Camp Champions. Last week, the long awaited camp yearbook came in the mail. Every night since, Marena has had the yearbook in bed, reminiscing about every person, activity and funny incident that occurred at camp. She engages Vivian in bedtime conversations of “Remember when…”, “Remember her…”, until Vivian falls asleep. Marena does not like when Vivian falls asleep before she does, so she climbs out of bed and comes to us, saying it’s too lonely. I don’t think she’s ready to have her own room.
Vivian has a sense of humor that grandparents would call clever and witty. Her siblings would label it more cunning or sly. During a car trip home from Yosemite in July, Eva was discussing twin myths she had learned about: they can read each other’s minds, they have a secret language, etc. She then mentions the myth that when one twin feels pain, the other feels it too. Vivian, not missing a beat, punches Marena in the face, then says nonchalantly, “Nope, didn’t feel anything, not true.” Also, a common apology from Vivian when both get in trouble is “We’re sorry for Marena’s behavior.” But, Vivian is fiercely loyal and protective of Marena. Waiting for Marena to come out of the bathroom during a Giants baseball game, I said “She’s taking too long, let’s leave her.” Thinking I was serious, Vivian takes my hand, digs her heels into the floor almost sitting down as she pulls me, and yells at the top of her lungs, “Marena!!! Hurry up!!! We’re leaving!!!” I had done this earlier in the game but with Vivian in the bathroom, and Marena said hesitantly and warily “Really? Okay, but she’s going to cry…” – my own little twin experiment.
John and I took some short trips this summer while the kids were away at camp. No European trip like last time, but still relaxing – Carmel Valley, Napa, Bodega Bay, and a quick trip to New York City. One of my favorite moments was spending time in my house, by myself. I removed the contents of my office, brought it to the family room, and for 3+ days watched Red Sox games while I organized, filed and made friends with the recycling bin. I watched complete games – from Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy’s pregame intro, to Dennis Eckersley and Jim Rice’s post game comments. And yes, I had salt & vinegar chips, Twizzlers and root beer by my side. Who needs the Eiffel Tower? (I am choosing to disremember anything that happened to the Sox after August.) John started a new job in October as CEO of Adaptive Planning. It provides cloud-based Corporate Performance Management solutions for middle-market companies. The kids wonder “What the heck does providing service in the cloud mean? Dad, is this a real job?” My best explanation: Think of me as your Cloud. Every need you have: driving, help with homework, driving, laundry, driving, club team manager, driving, field trips, driving, Halloween costume – all these services are consolidated and hosted into one convenient location. When you need any of those functions performed – Look to the Cloud. My 27 gallon tank Suburban is one of my most reliable tools.
Once again, we will be going to Breckenridge, CO after Christmas and Kauai for spring break. This year we decided that none of the kids would play league basketball outside of school. Instead, we have season passes to Vail Resorts which, in addition to the ski resorts in Colorado, also include Lake Tahoe resorts – Heavenly and Northstar. The kids are excited about all the skiing we will be doing. As many of you know, being cold on a ski lift is not something I look forward to. But, the family time during these ski trips is worth it – especially as I feel Jeffrey pulling away from us, with Eva not too far behind, towards the world of friends and activities. (Removing 6 basketball practices/week from the calendar is also a nice bonus J.) As much as I complain about the endless to do list and nonstop transportation, the hints of independence and understandable need to push away make me thankful for the time I have with the kids now. I still want to be their Cloud. Infuse some private equity in me and I’ll be good to go until they leave for college.
We wish you all a wonderful holiday season!
John, May, Jeffrey, Eva, Marena, Vivian
Jeffrey, 13 years old
Eva, 11 years old
Vivian, 8 years old
Marena, 8 years old