Rain is coming down in buckets. It is a welcome sight and sound that has us in California singing an appropriate and timely Hallelujah. The dramatic pictures of the drought bring to mind the phrase “You can never have too much…” when it comes to rain. This phrase has also been meaningful in our lives this year. There have been many times when we felt our family didn’t have enough time together. We tried to overcome this by prescribing to the tenet that quality was more important than quantity. This year, we have started appreciating the value of quantity, and are holding fast to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule (that success is a matter of practicing a task for 10,000 hours). As a child, my dad would take me with him to do his rounds at the hospital every Saturday. I would do it begrudgingly; sometimes I would just wait in the car until he finished. We’d do errands, then go home. As the mesmerizing downpour of rain takes me back to my childhood, I realize that more than our quality family vacations to Maine or Cape Cod, it was the simple physical presence of my dad on those many Saturdays that I remember the most. It is what I believe informed my character and gave me a sense of security, just as much as any advantage we were provided by living in a nice suburb and attending an excellent public high school. So, as my kids go through middle and high school, and soon venture off on their own, they will do so with memories of exotic vacations, playing club sports, and enjoying the benefits of an exceptional school. But, I hope it is the Sunday afternoons with all of us lying on the sectional couch watching football, bodies splayed every which way, with the occasional snoring from John, that they will remember the most. And, between college football and the NFL, we are for better and worse, on our way to those 10,000 hours.
Jeffrey is 16½ and a junior in high school. I’ve come to realize that “high school junior” is a label that, when brought up in conversation, elicits knowing looks of sympathy and the common question, “How is it going?” It’s like a condition that we, as parents, are learning how to treat. The junior course load, preparing for SATs, and the college visits that were looming and anticipated are now here. Someone has splashed cold water on our collective face, and now we are lucid and awake. Despite the build-up of anxiety, it has been a fairly calm semester. Jeffrey has done a commendable job staying relaxed – at times a little too relaxed from our perspective! We took Jeffrey on a summer trip to visit colleges in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. While we believe he got a good feel for different types of schools – small/large, public/private, city/suburban; the excitement in his eyes was most evident when searching for golf courses to play, and finding the best barbeque establishments. We might need a bit more educating on how to choose a college.
Eva is 14½ and a freshman in high school. She loves everything about freshman year – meeting new friends, classes, teachers and all the activities. There is an analogy teachers use regarding opportunities at the school – that it is like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Eva has sprinted to the table, with eyes wide and bigger than her stomach. I received quite a few emails saying “Your child has expressed interest in…” and then inviting us to a parent meeting – one for golf, volleyball, mock trial, basketball, trip to Panama, etc. Eva needed some pointers on buffet eating etiquette – do not pile too much on your plate, no double-dipping, and take a rest before you go back for more. She still loves to sing (consciously in Choir and unconsciously while she is studying); and her passion for travel led her to Fiji this summer working with kids in a small village. Eva wants to do it all, but we are coaxing her into the dim sum way of life – try a little bit of everything, then go hog wild on what you love.
Marena and Vivian are 11½ and in 6th grade. All four kids are now at the same school. Let me say that again slowly. All four kids are now at the same school. Words cannot describe my jubilation. Marena and Vivian have also been eagerly waiting for this moment. They watched Jeffrey and Eva enjoy all that Menlo School had to offer, and now they get to experience it for themselves. With my driving duties scaled back due to efficiency (one school) and more resources (Jeffrey driving), not only has my life gotten easier, but Vivian and Marena are living the life of queens. Jeffrey takes pit stops on the way home from school to Taco Bell or Chipotle. After junior golf, they order marcus burgers and chili before driving home. And, Jeffrey does nothing to police the cups of jelly beans the girls have helped themselves to from the locker room. Marena said “It’s like we have our own personal Manny!” I think Jeffrey feels like a Genie who can grant their every wish – and like John, he loves to spoil the girls. When the car pulls into the driveway, I watch them get out of the car, smiling and laughing, and see they are beginning to share moments together without me. I am catching a glimpse of what their young adult lives will be like. Unbeknownst to them, I await their arrival and look out the window as they hide their Taco Bell wrappers and stuff the cups of jelly beans inside their backpacks. Mom still knows all.
This was a year of traveling and big events for me and John. In addition to our annual family spring break to Kauai, we attended our 25th year college reunions in Boston. The girls graduated from 5th and 8th grades, and we went on an amazing summer family vacation to Puerto Rico. John left the company where he had been working for the past 3 years, and our summer and fall of spending quantity time together took off. John is extremely proud of what he accomplished at Adaptive Insights, growing it from $11M to $70M in sales, 60 to 450 employees, 1,000 to 2,700 customers, and raising $68M in new funding. So now, we were all ready to have more of John’s time. John promised me that he would take time off before jumping onto the next thing. So true to his word, we spent a week in Vancouver while the kids were at summer camps and trips. We spent a long weekend in Napa with our dear friends, the Sluskys; and we went to Newport Beach for golf and visiting friends.
In October, my parents came to stay with the kids while John and I spent two weeks in northern Spain. This was the most relaxing, memorable and soul-gratifying vacation we have ever had. We spent time in Madrid, drove north to the Basque region, stayed in San Sebastian, drove to La Rioja region, and visited beautiful wineries, museums, restaurants and pinxto bars. The food was superb, the landscape breathtaking and most of all, the people were unforgettably warm and welcoming. One of the towns we visited was my ancestral homeland of Briones in the heart of the wine region. When we visited the winemaker, Abel Mendoza, and told him that my surname was Briones and my mother’s name was Mendoza, he welcomed us like long lost relatives. With two weeks together, there was no need for a tight schedule. Some of our most fun times were getting lost driving around the small neighborhoods outside Madrid, cursing at the never-ending roundabouts, and then finding a nice coffee shop to recuperate. John also got quite a kick out of some of the town names (Moron) and the gigantic black bull structures gracing the landscape along the autopistas. John’s sense of humor really took our conversation to a new low; and my inability to restrain from laughing only added fuel to the fire.
In addition to quantity time with me, John was able to be with the kids in ways he had not been in the past. Whether it was accompanying Jeffrey to his many golf tournaments, or hanging out with the girls to do what they do best – talk; it has been rewarding for both of us. John got to witness the small things that I already had the privilege of seeing – like when Jeffrey makes a birdie, he pumps his fist twice very discreetly as he bends down to get his ball; or that Eva tears up whenever she talks about her visit to an elderly home in Fiji; or that when the twins come home, they rush upstairs to stash the jelly beans in their closet. Of course, as soon as business colleagues began hearing of John’s availability, there was no shortage of companies and investors searching out his help and advice. So the meetings and phone conversations to help a company, start up a new one, or help get one sold, are taking up a lot of John’s time, but I notice the memory of those small moments has made him more attuned to stop and pay attention to them when they happen.
Every year I stare at the screen thinking there is no way I can write as much as last year, yet here we are at font size 8, 2.5 spacing between paragraphs; and I still can’t cut it down to one page. A 4th grade teacher I work with at an underserved school teaches writing to her students by asking them to choose small moments that are important to them. She calls it “writing a seed story, not a watermelon story”. So, instead of writing about playing outside, write about the first time you caught your first fish. When I saw her instructions, it struck me that with our family of four kids, and a husband who likes to act like one, the quantity of seeds in our lives is abundant. Recalling some of these for our holiday letter always opens the floodgates to many more – too many to share in one letter. So, I end by saying how thankful I am for the quantity of small moments that I have with Jeffrey, Eva, Marena and Vivian; and for John, who appreciates those moments more than ever before. While I tend to watch and smile during those times; John names it, calls it out, and boisterously becomes part of the moment – which makes me smile even more. And, just like the rain, I am reminded of another thing we can never have too much of… Gratitude.
May, John, Jeffrey, Eva, Vivian, & Marena