This has been a year of refocusing and coming together for our family. For several years, our days have been about getting each child to their activity; coordinating so that they get there on time, with the appropriate paraphernalia, while we try to spread the love around and attend as many activities as we can. Our family sometimes felt very disjointed as if we were in “parallel play” – playing adjacent to each other but not necessarily together. This year, everyone cut down on activities and we tried to do more things as a family. There are many times when one child is not at home for dinner. Even without that one person, there are still 5 or 6 of us (with our au pair, Ruth) ready to incite a riot at the thought of waiting for that person until 8pm for dinner. But, with less activities, we have been able to spend more meals together. My favorite moments are the unexpected family meals when a meeting/game/practice changes and everyone comes home around the same time. Dinner is on the stove (or in the pizza box or Chinese food container), everyone drops their backpacks/gym bags (in the middle of the floor) and heads straight to the stove, grabs a plate and sits at the island in our kitchen. Parallel play is over and it’s time for some cooperative play. Not quite like the Waltons, but the warm fuzzy is still there.
Jeffrey is 14½ and started his freshman year of high school. The transition to high school has been very smooth. Although we don’t usually need to hound him about doing homework and studying, the door is closed, he’s in his room and I crave interaction from my first born. Efforts to engage him in discussions of school, social life, sports, etc. lead to caveman like grunts that with a bit of imagination form complete sentences. Whether hormones or self-consciousness are the reasons for his subdued emotions, I have discovered that playing 9 holes of golf with Jeffrey usually does the trick. Regardless of whether it’s because he’s “doing while talking” (versus being trapped with me in the front seat of the car after a long day of school and practice) or enjoys seeing me play bad golf, he opens up and I once again feel connected to him. The occasional hand-holding or hug (mostly to comfort me on a shanked ball) melts my heart. The next developmental hurdle to tackle is advanced planning and understanding that his last minute plans affect us all. Right now, he does not think beyond the next meal time. Jeffrey has been focusing on golf much more this year, playing in the fall to get ready for spring, but wanting to do freshman basketball this winter to hang out with his classmates. Not playing a fall high school sport was a nice bonus for family time. Jeffrey has also become the 3rd parent in our family. He monitors Eva’s clothing selection and cautions her not to be one of “those” girls. He goes into more descriptive detail of ‘those’ girls, but this holiday letter would be flagged if I shared.
Eva is 12½, in 7th grade and more than anyone, has cut back on her activities. Giving up club soccer was hard, since many of her elementary school friends were teammates. But, volleyball was her favored sport and she knew she needed more balance. Although she misses her soccer team, she has had more time to be with the family and participate in other activities – she’s volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club, participating in her school’s engineering, science and technology program for girls, tried lacrosse, and has been able to sing more. Eva’s teacher says she is singing with more feeling and angst; in other words, she’s becoming a teenager. I’m willing to bet John would pay double the lesson fee if there was a guarantee that she could channel all that emotion into singing and save his sanity from the potential perceived drama of middle and high school. Everything about Eva is heartfelt, whether she’s talking about a friend in need, writing a poem for history, discussing her love for ramen noodles, or arguing for Kaepernick as the starting 49er quarterback. Even when I read her texts or Instagram (she knows I occasionally read them), I see that she has perfected her use of emojis. Eva treats my closet like the pantry, not sure what she wants but hunting and searching for something to try. Although it’s nice to share clothes, more often than not it becomes hers. After seeing how much better she looks in my clothes, there is no feel good in my wearing them again. I’m anticipating in the years to come my mantra will not be “Don’t you dare drink and drive, but don’t you dare try on my Lululemon top.”
Marena and Vivian are 9½, in 4th grade and have arrived at the era of twin competitiveness. They keep tabs on whose name is written first on the holiday card (notice I gave them equal time); they have contests for everything (let’s see who can jump up and down the front steps the most in 1 minute, who can do a handstand the longest, who can rush to Daddy first when he comes home to give him a hug); and they gauge their adequacies based on the other’s performance. Last week they came home with a report from each of their teachers rating them in three categories: how much they speak Spanish among their peers, showing responsibility and showing respect. Vivian’s teacher scored the class much tougher, but Viv was still very happy with her scores. Marena’s teacher graded more generously. Vivian came home sad saying, “I felt so good about myself in class, and then Marena told me she got better scores and I felt so bad!” Aside from trying to give her a lesson in statistics, I told Vivian this was an important lesson – that you should try not to let others affect the way you feel about yourself. Marena felt so bad she started crying and said “Ok, Vivian do anything to me you want, I deserve it.” Marena and Vivian enjoy brain exercises in a way that Jeffrey and Eva did not. Marena loves to do long division (go figure). If she’s bored she asks me to write out a really long division problem. Vivian loves geography. The other day while watching a football game, she started writing out all the states she could think of that did not have an NFL team. I think she only got one wrong – Missouri. Not sure if this showcases geography skills or something more insidious.
This past summer was the first time in 5 years none of my kids attended Camp Champions in Texas. Instead we took a family vacation to southern Spain, visiting Granada, Seville, Cadiz, Gibraltar, Ronda and lots of little beach towns. The best part of our vacation was spending quality time together. Being in a different country forced us to pull together and help each other out. We rented a house, a car, and bought groceries. Marena and Vivian were a big help in translating. They helped us resolve rental car issues, food questions and freeway signage confusion. We learned that Jeffrey is very good at reading maps, but annoying to the driver; Eva is adventurous with food but wants hot sauce with everything; Marena falls out of beds very easily; Vivian is happy as long as there is Fanta Limon; John tries hard to immerse himself in the culture, but when he says Hola wearing white tube socks and a safari sun hat, he might as well have American Tourist written across his Nike t-shirt; and May is good at navigating roundabouts, but can’t tell the difference between east and west in Spanish.
John’s job at Adaptive Planning has been going very well. They just won the Deloitte Fast 500 Award as one of the 500 fastest growing technology companies in North America, and it was the #5 fastest growing software company in Silicon Valley. He hasn’t had to do much traveling, and he left a few of his outside board roles which has given him more time at home. John’s one big business trip was to Australia; and I got the chance to tag along in October. I had never been to Australia, and my only memories were of John traveling there for weeks at a time during his eBay days when the twins were weeks old. I associated Australia with images of me double breast-feeding at 3am, knowing in a few short hours I would be alone with 4 awake kids ages 5 and under. Now, memories consist of climbing the Sydney Bridge, touring the Opera House, holding koalas in Brisbane, and exploring two beautiful cities. I did Australia a big favor in visiting and removing that connection from my mind!
We will be going to Breckenridge after Christmas and Kauai for spring break. Our season passes to Vail Resorts worked out so well last season that we will once again try to hit the slopes as often as we can. The EpicMix app which logs your days on the slopes, total vertical feet, pictures of happy skiers, and basically your every move on the mountain has gotten all our competitive juices flowing. Although I hate being cold, I hate being last in anything even more – especially with 9 year olds, so no hot toddies in the lodge for me. No way I’m having the lowest vertical feet in the family. The nice thing about skiing is that even though we are literally parallel playing, the lift rides and our après ski black jack games bring us together.
We wish you all a happy holiday season and a wonderful year of lift rides and black jack games and whatever else brings your family together.
John, May, Jeffrey, Eva, Vivian, Marena
Jeffrey, 14 years old
Eva, 12 years old
Marena, 9 years old
Vivian, 9 years old