Many of you who have been receiving our holiday cards know that it contains this letter. Some of you save it for when you have more dedicated time (with tea/coffee in hand, on the couch, cozy with a blanket). You wonder what insights I will have about our family this year, what stories will I tell? Or – you see the return address, know that it contains this long, impossibly small font letter of tales and reflections, put it aside and say, “I can’t even.” If this is your first time getting our letter – brace yourself. Or, take the advice of the “I Can’t Even” camp and stop right here, knowing you can go back to binge-watching Stranger Things in good conscience.
Nine years ago, I wrote about how the kids getting older felt like a snow globe “with their future selves slowly emerging through the falling snow” and my desire to shake up the snow globe to deny the inevitable. Last week, Vivian asked me to edit her Catcher in the Rye essay. As I recalled my memory of the novel, I sympathized with Holden Caulfield – wanting to be in the field of rye to catch and protect my children from falling off the cliff into adulthood. Vivian argued that Holden’s red hunting hat was a reminder of his childhood. We all had a red hunting hat – Marena and Vivian had Chimpy and Chimpers, two chipmunk stuffed animals that went everywhere with us. Eva had a Casper the friendly ghost necklace that she wore every day, not just at Halloween. Jeffrey had Jack, his imaginary friend who came with us when we moved from Newport Beach to Palo Alto. I had a huge, green wooden wagon with monster truck wheels that carried the twins and their Teletubbies as we walked the older kids to elementary school. We were all tied to these objects; I thought they would be with us into adulthood. (I bought extra chipmunks in case M&V needed them to go away to college.) But, like Holden, there came a time when we were ready to give up our objects. At first, I tried to resist: “Aren’t Chimpy and Chimpers coming on vacation with us?” Do you want to wear your ghost necklace?” What does Jack think?” John begged me for years before I agreed to get rid of the old, warped wooden wagon. (You may have noticed that John does not have a “red hunting hat” – that’s because he has never fully matured. He still wants macaroni & cheese with every meal, still pronounces Valentine’s Day with an “m”, and his eyes light up like a Christmas tree when we go to the adult Toys R Us »» Costco.) But these past few years, as they have moved towards greater independence, it is clear just how much they craved and needed it. Many mornings, Marena runs downstairs yelling “Who wants eggs?!” as she takes out the frying pan. Vivian yells outside Eva’s door to wake up, and gathers athletic socks and sports clothes for everyone’s day. This gives Chauffeur Eva time to wake up and get dressed in the 10 minutes they have before I announce in an extremely loud voice that they are going to be late. I help with putting on a Kendra Scott necklace, grab the Catcher in the Rye essay from the printer, and with a wistful sigh, acknowledge the distant memory of stuffed animals, character jewelry, and make believe friends. I still wish I had kept that big green wagon.
Jeffrey is 19 ½ and a sophomore at Amherst College. He had a great first year and is having a good start to sophomore year. He is planning on majoring in Computer Science, but has really enjoyed the benefits of Amherst’s open curriculum, taking music and drawing classes. He loves being on the golf team; and is rooming with one of his teammates. During January break, Jeffrey will participate in Amherst’s Innovation Trek, where a group of students will spend time in Silicon Valley, meeting with alumni, doing site visits at various companies, and learning about career paths in the tech industry. Like his sisters, Jeffrey has a passion for food and a great palate. His favorite creation is salsa, and he is always perfecting his recipe. We are looking forward to him continuing that effort over winter break – to make up for the Stouffer’s mac and cheese he used at Thanksgiving instead of his usual recipe. (John thought it was delicious.) This past August, John moved Jeffrey back to school. Jeffrey and his roommate have two adjoining rooms, and decided to put their beds in one room and make the other their living space, aka – video gaming room. Jeffrey convinced John to buy them a big screen monitor that they placed on top of a dresser. Across from that is a big couch that I’m sure his roommate’s dad was convinced to buy. The setup is lovely – a nice rug, posters, fake greenery – everything needed to make one comfortable while staring at a monitor for hours. When Jeffrey sent me a picture of the room, it took me a while to find their desks and chairs – you know, those pieces of furniture meant for studying. It was like a Where’s Waldo scene – aah, there it is, in a small corner of the room. I’m surprised they didn’t just do away with them to make room for more game seating. Be forewarned, parents of gamers who will be off to college soon: the comfortable chair with wheels that they want to replace the wooden desk chair is not for optimal studying. It is so that they can easily wheel themselves to their friends’ dorm room down the hall to play on their game system – convenient transportation and seating. All kidding aside, Jeffrey promises us that he is studying hard (in the library). Their second room is basically a sleeping pod and closet – bed, sheets, pillow, comforter, maybe a poster. Dorm room decorating aficionados would gasp in horror. Next year, I’m helping with move-in.
Eva is 17½ and a senior in high school. Having now gone through two cycles of the college application process (Eva’s is still unfinished but in the last stages), the differences between Jeffrey and Eva’s personalities are that much more evident. For Jeffrey, it took a while to understand how to be introspective and translate that on to paper. Eva, on the other hand, naturally communicated through her stories and experiences the essence of who she is. In fact, she seemed to revel in the supplemental essays that some colleges required, as opportunities to express more of her perspectives and core values. Eva has always been very emotive and willing to share her life with me, and I always felt I had a window into her world. But, after she asked me to proofread her essays, I felt like the window became a sliding glass door pushed all the way back. I couldn’t wait to read each essay, much like anticipating the next episode of Outlander. We have started to check off the long list of “lasts” as senior year speeds by. A few weeks ago, Eva had her last high school volleyball game. It was almost fitting that we travelled to Turlock (104 miles away). As Eva and the other five seniors embraced in tears, I tried unsuccessfully to hold back my own. As much as I lamented and complained about the travel and all-encompassing nature of the sport, the 7+ years of driving to tournaments together was a by-product for which I am forever grateful. Oftentimes, late in the evening, both of us exhausted, with hours of driving ahead, these were the moments when Eva opened up the most. We talked about friendships, boys, relationships, listened to books on Audible (one of which made it into a college essay). As Eva and I drove home from her last game, we chatted lightly about different things, nothing too deep. As we crossed the Dumbarton Bridge just a few miles from home, I said “Eva, this is the last time we’ll ever drive home from volleyball together, and she just nodded and said, “I know…” There was nothing else to say between us. She’d let me in with a view through those sliding glass doors often enough for both of us to know that even when they’re closed, I’ll still be able to see through the glass.
Marena and Vivian are 14½ and freshmen in high school. They are having a great start to the school year, and are lucky to have a senior sister showing them the ropes. Being the youngest and last to experience things, they sometimes feel like their lives are less important – they’ve gone through two college application processes as well, but from a different perspective. Comments from me such as “I’m doing Jeffrey’s laundry because he has to write his college essays” or “We aren’t going away for winter break because Eva has to visit colleges” lead to some resentment and indignation. (Their picture for this card is double the size of Jeffrey and Eva’s in an attempt to partly make up for that.) But, Vivian and Marena have a boundlessly good natured view of life, and they eke out the positives in everything they do. These girls have fun because they make their own fun. They are on the high school golf team and after every match, win or lose, if there was a pool, they would jump in with their golf clothes on. Whether they are having a good or bad round, they have the same relaxed smile on their face. This fall, they organized a trip to visit their best friends from camp (who are also twins) in Odessa, TX. They planned every detail of their trip – deciding on a weekend, figuring out flights, getting California gifts for the whole family (Stanford gear). This was one of their most anticipated weekends of the year, aside from camp itself. Their friends are freshmen at Permian High School, which was the subject of the book and TV series “Friday Night Lights”; AND they both made the varsity dance team. (I guess that’s like becoming a cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys, but I think this might be even more prestigious.) For my two football-loving teens, going to a high school football game doesn’t get much better than that. Heck, for 50 year old football-loving Mom and Dad, this was pretty exciting. They say the youngest ones grow up the fastest, and this is very much the case for Marena and Vivian. They are proudly independent, mature and can problem solve calmly. This past summer they chose to go on different service trips – Marena to Dominican Republic, Vivian to Coast Rica. On their way home, they each had to connect through different cities and had several hour layovers. Marena landed first and decided that she would try to get on an earlier flight. She went to the airline counter and said that she was traveling alone and had a long layover. The woman said there was a flight leaving in 30 minutes, but she had to hurry if she wanted to make it. Marena did not skip a beat and said “I’ll take it”. She rushed through security and called me as she got to her seat out of breath. When Vivian landed at her connection, she called saying she was getting on an earlier flight. I told her Marena did the same thing! She said, “Oh, I know, she called and told me so I rushed to do the same thing”. Her original flight ended up being delayed many hours, and others tried to get on her flight to no avail. She was very satisfied with herself.
John still works during the week down in southern CA and also in Orem UT where he opened up a second office. So, it’s the three girls and I most of the week. Now that volleyball and golf season are over, they often come home together. (M&V will miss Eva next year, but they will miss her car and driver’s license the most.) Sometimes they arrive with groceries for a recipe they want to try; and the four of us spend the next hour or so prepping and making dinner before they do homework. Other days, they do a work out before coming home; and I get a text asking if I need anything at the store. This has been the greatest sign of independence in my girls this year. The most common words to come out of my mouth are “What do you have going on today?” or “Let me know if you need anything.” We are like roommates, coming together after a day apart, making dinner, telling stories, asking for advice, then heading off to our rooms to do work. As with many roommates, we have the messy ones and the neat freaks. I’m not calling out names, but I’m withholding my rent payment (allowance) until the dishes in the sink are put away. When John is home he tries to spend all his time with us. He and the girls go out for brunches and dinners; and the girls love this quality time. We’ve also been spending more time at home because we have a new adorable addition to our family. Guster is a Bernese/poodle mix and he is 6 months old. It took a while for Willa (2 ½) to warm up to Gus, but now they play and keep each other company. John is lapping up all the affection from these creatures and he gives out just as much love. They get up at 5am every morning, get coffee, and walk around the park. He talks to them like they are toddlers. The “Hi, sweetie!” and “Who’s my girl?” endearments are not directed at the humans in the house. Gus lost a tooth yesterday and John gave it to me saying the tooth fairy should bring some extra treats.
We’ll be spending Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It is our happy place where we enjoy the vastness of open space, the beautiful hikes, majestic mountains, time away to recharge from Silicon Valley – and where the nearest Costco is 136 miles away.
We wish you and your loved ones health, well-being and wonderful family memories during the coming year!
May, John, Jeffrey, Eva, Vivian, Marena, Willa & Gus
Marena, 14 1/2
Vivian, 14 1/2
Jeffrey, 19 1/2
Eva, 17 1/2