Maturity. It has been our family theme this year. Everyone has been maturing in various ways – whether moving closer to adulthood (Jeffrey), experiencing the trials and tribulations of early teenage life like a coming-of-age movie (Eva), waiting for the first signs of puberty with the eagerness and savoir faire that comes with having older siblings (Marena & Vivian), or acquiescing to the blurred lines (literally) between wisdom and forgetfulness, and sophistication and gray hair (May & John). Unlike the frenetic pace of years past, our family life now seems more like the hum of a coffee shop, rather than the sounds of an inner city. Traffic, sirens and loud explosions have given way to the steady rhythm of coffee shop chatter, and the melodic tinkling of spoon and cup, with the occasional sound of a dropped tray. There are days when city life invades our home. It could be a weekday afternoon when driving logistics, mealtime and meetings collide to sound the 5-alarm bell; or it could be a Sunday when the Friday trash bins have not been put away, homework is not done, but texts and Instagram have been carefully attended to, 11 loads of laundry await attention, and the Christmas letter has yet to be written. On to the updates…
Jeffrey is 15½ and a high school sophomore. The half-human, grumbling teenager has transformed into a more interactive, appreciative, and somewhat more responsible man-boy (refer back to the trash bins not getting put away). Sophomore year is marked by a tinge of sadness for me as a parent. Conversations regarding PSATs, campus visits, AP classes, etc. began soon after school started. With all of this looking ahead, Jeffrey is seeking out his younger sisters to help him feel like a kid again. When he gets home, he goes to Marena and Vivian for a hug and to talk about their day. It is akin to parents coming home from a day at work wanting to forget their worries. I ask Jeffrey about school and tell him to take in the trash bins. The girls tell him how awesome tetherball was at recess – no wonder he goes to them. Sweet and bittersweet. Jeffrey is now devoted to golf year round. I miss watching basketball and baseball, but I have to admit, golf is very “parent-friendly”. During a weekend involving both golf for Jeffrey and volleyball for Eva, John suggested that I take Jeffrey so he could spend time with Eva. Jeffrey’s tournament was at La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, and Eva’s tournament was in Yuba City. John drove early in the morning and spent 8 hours in an enclosed space with Eva and 200 other eager kneepad-wearing, pony-tailed volleyball players. I watched Jeffrey warm up at the driving range with a cup of hot tea, put on sunscreen and walked 18 holes in the glorious sunshine. We had a steak/seafood dinner at the resort restaurant. John was assigned to bring a veggie tray and dip for the team tailgate. That was the last volleyball tournament John has attended; and I have learned to appreciate the game of golf.
Eva is 13½ and in 8th grade. Although middle schoolers’ lives are fraught with every possible emotion felt by humans, if not all of the animal kingdom, Eva has a very calm and even-keeled demeanor. This does not, however, give us immunity from the frustrations and anger that result from one of today’s big teenage issues – social media. The instantaneous and sometimes anonymous methods of communicating and socializing – texting, Instagram, Snapchat, Kik, Ask.fm, Vine – create boundless distractions. After struggling to find a solution to reduce these distractions, I decided that at home all devices would be kept in one place. There is a little area in our family room that was originally a wet bar. When the twins were born, we modified it to become our Diaper Changing Station. Now, it is officially our Personal Device Charging Station. After getting enough power strips to accommodate all the devices, it has been working out very well. This summer was Eva’s turn for travel. She went to Costa Rica with her school’s Girls Leadership Club to host a children’s camp, and spent three weeks in Chile with her teacher and a group of classmates. Volleyball and singing are still Eva’s main interests. John continues to comment on what a nice golf swing Eva has and that she should consider taking up golf. I think he just doesn’t want to go to Yuba City again.
Marena and Vivian are 10½ and in 5th grade. They play golf, club soccer, and tried archery for the first time. Despite fights about clothes and who gets to sit shotgun in the car, Vivian and Marena are extremely close. Encouragement to do different activities leads to anguished cries saying I don’t understand what it’s like to be a twin. I often find them sleeping in the same bed, even though they now have their own room. They are so used to having someone to talk with, they need to learn how to enjoy solitude. Also, I have had to work harder at my relationship with each of them. When we are together, I am SO the 3rd wheel. After school, they talk nonstop about their day – I have to interrupt to be included in the conversation. When I need to talk to them, I take them into my office separately because I am never really sure whose opinion they are giving when they are together. Their body language and the slight exchange of glances are signals that I cannot decipher. These conversations in my office have been my most valuable tool in getting to know each of them distinctly. Eleven years ago, my doctor told me that I had won the genetic jackpot with identical twins. At the time, I kept thinking “But, I didn’t buy a lottery ticket!” Now, I truly feel lucky to parent two people who have such a unique bond. Recently in the car, Marena said, “Sometimes I wonder why God chose me to be a twin.” She is right. We didn’t need to buy a lottery ticket. God chose us.
John and I did some travelling this year. In April, we went on an amazing trip to Cuba. We toured Havana, a school, hospital, cigar factory, Ernest Hemingway’s house and had lots of Cuban food and mojitos. We were allowed to bring 10lbs of medicine that we gave to the hospital. In June, we went to Boston for John’s 20th business school reunion. We took Jeffrey along, went on campus tours of our alma maters Harvard & Boston College, dined in the North End, and watched my World Champion Red Sox in one of their 97 regular season wins (you knew I was going to get that in somehow). This summer we celebrated my dad’s 80th birthday with a family reunion in San Diego. With my brother in Massachusetts, my sister in Kauai, and my parents in Florida, the west coast was meeting halfway! Vivian, Marena and Jeffrey went to Camp Champions in Texas in July, while Eva travelled to South America. With all the kids gone for 3 weeks, we completed our landscaping and some remodeling. As a result of all the maturing going on, after 8 years of loving use, our wooden play structure was given away, and we put in a hot tub. Sentimental Vivian shed some tears and had to look away as the play structure was taken apart. We also enclosed a patio that leads out from the family room. The only things in the room are a pullout couch and a 70 inch flat screen TV. I know, I thought the same thing you’re thinking about the TV – is that really necessary? But, when you watch David Ortiz hit a grand slam on that size screen, you can actually smell the Fenway Franks. Jeffrey and his friends can stay there for hours playing video games or watching sports. There is a window looking out from the family room, so I can see the boys, but most important, I cannot hear or smell them. When the boys come out to grab something from the kitchen, our senses are bombarded and the girls yell for them to close the door. If I were the boys, I would just blame it on the Fenway Franks.
This is our first year without an au pair. The biggest challenge is driving the kids around. But, after several months of working out the logistics, I seem to have found the right combination of solutions to make things hum like that coffee shop. I have lots of carpools set up (someone should make a t-shirt that says “Carpool = Life”). I have also been using Uber when the time and space complexity of getting everyone to their destination cannot be solved with me as the only input. With the Uber app, I request a car to take Jeffrey home from the golf course while I get Eva to volleyball and Marena and Vivian home from soccer. I receive a text telling me the name of the driver, the kind of car, the license plate, and how many minutes before arrival. With my credit card on file, all Jeffrey needs to do is offer a polite thank you when he gets home. And then possibly take in the trash bins.
John is still working at Adaptive Planning and enjoying his job. John may be aging, but his mentality and sense of humor still rival any 15 year old. Yes, we have a sophomore and a sophomoric 47 year old living under the same roof. The kids think he is hysterical. He tells bathroom jokes, can turn anything into a phallic symbol, and his prefrontal cortex has yet to learn restraint at Costco. Costco feeds John’s longstanding obsession with luggage and his inability to say no to a 34” stuffed panda for Marena and Vivian. Although I roll my eyes at John’s antics, I appreciate the levity that he brings to our sometimes hair-raising daily lives. John can often say or do something to incite laughter when someone is ready to explode (usually me). There is a heartwarming story of a photographer who travelled the world taking pictures of himself in a pink tutu amidst beautiful settings to make his wife, who was going through chemotherapy, laugh. www.thetutuproject.com. John is my pink tutu man.
As I sit in my office writing this letter, the space heater is on and I am wearing a jacket, gloves and my Sorel winter boots. My body, which ancestrally craves tropical weather, has been looking forward to the hot flashes that are the signature telltale signs of maturity. I can’t wait to wear t-shirts and shorts in the house. So, I laugh in the face of Menopause – bring it on!
If you are in the neighborhood, please come visit our bustling coffee shop, where I will be dressed like an Eskimo; John will be in a pink tutu telling fart jokes; testosterone, estrogen and progesterone will be floating through the air like steam from the espresso machine; and of course – the trash bins will still be at the end of the driveway.
John, May, Jeffrey, Eva, Marena, Vivian