When I sit down to write my annual update, I’m usually comfortable at my computer with snacks and drinks at the ready. This year, I’m writing from 36,000 feet in seat 13C MXP to JFK traveling back home from Thanksgiving in Europe with the family. The twins are abroad for their first semester of 11th grade, so John and I have become temporary empty nesters. I should have taken this time to finish getting settled into our home as we entered our second year in Jackson Hole. Instead, I have used this freedom to travel. It’s been a revolving door of frequent flyer points – as fast as John accumulates, I use them up. Since August when I dropped off the girls, to the end of December when they return, I will have traveled a total of 81 days. I’ve watched most of the Delta movies, read books and listened to my favorite Spotify playlists. I’ve been visiting family and friends, and John and I have spent some fun travel time together. This has been a tough year of family illness, with my dad’s 29 day ICU stay, followed by hospice care and then a miraculous recovery that leaves us all thankful for every day. We’ve had four friends pass away in their forties and fifties; and it’s made me reevaluate how I spend my time. As the kids were growing up, Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule gained much relevance in parenting circles as a guide to success. With the passage of time putting things in perspective, those hours take on a new meaning for me. Perfecting skills is great, but working towards deepening relationships even better. As I wrap up my travels and my eyes grow weary from reading or watching, I listen often to the song at the top of my playlist, “10,000 Hours” by Dan+Shay: “I’d spend 10,000 hours and 10,000 more if that’s what it takes to learn that sweet heart of yours, And I might never get there, but I’m gonna try, if it’s 10,000 hours or the rest of my life, I’m gonna love you.” If there’s anything I want my kids to perfect, it’s this.
Jeffrey is 21 ½ and a senior in college. His laid back, calm attitude is a nice complement to the three girls, but has often caused us anxiety. And, as a young adult ready to tackle the real world – why would he stop now? The Amazon cart usually filled with textbooks and supplies for the fall semester, contained a whiffle ball set, poker chips, Kam Jam and other items of folly. After a kick in the pants, Jeffrey steamed forward and is making great progress towards his job search in the tech world. Watching Jeffrey grow from the reserved 18 year old, to the confident, engaging gentleman who is a certified peer support counselor and writes letters to his golf teammates expressing appreciation for his Amherst College family, has made all the diaper explosions, vomiting on airplanes, and poker chips worth it. As graduation looms forward, I remind Jeffrey of the advantages that the mere circumstances of his birth have afforded him. For our kids, it’s as if they were born on first base; they didn’t hit a single or earn a walk. They are pinch runners taking over someone who got them there. Your job is to be a smart base runner; pay attention to signals from the third base coach; be aware of base runners ahead of you and watch what they’re doing; cheer on those behind you because their success is yours as well. Once you cross home plate, celebrate, but acknowledge that you could not have done it without help from others. Commencement this spring will be a great celebration of accomplishing what others started for you. Now you have the opportunity to get up to the plate and get on base yourself. You’re up to bat, Jeffrey.
Eva is 19 ½ and a sophomore at Vanderbilt. If ever there was a ying to Jeffrey’s yang, it would be Eva. While we push Jeffrey to action, we encourage Eva to slow down. She wants to do everything, and worries and plans for things years in advance. Sophomore year has been more of an adjustment for Eva than freshman year. The honeymoon of making new friends, joining clubs, and taking intro classes has given way to managing relationships, extracurriculars, and more involved courses. She loves being part of her sorority, Tri Delta, and her business fraternity, AKPsi as VP of Social Responsibility. Two days after she finished classes last semester, she had a tonsillectomy before heading to London for an Economics course, and then Texas working as a summer camp counselor. So nice that she could fit the tonsillectomy into the Gannt chart of her life! Last spring Eva and a friend ran a half marathon in Nashville. When I asked her how it was, she said it was so fun because she got to see Nashville in a different way, enjoying the sites and scenery that make Nashville unique. It’s great to look ahead, but also amazing to appreciate the things passing by right in front of you. Eva loves showing off Vanderbilt and has met with many interested students and parents. If you want your high schooler to fall in love and apply to Vandy, Eva’s your gal. Eva has always been used to the twins getting attention because of their identical looks. Now, as the twins get older, all three seem to be morphing together. After using Eva’s new iPhone, Marena said “OMG, my face just unlocked her phone!” The possibilities for mischief are now endless.
(Now writing from 22D JFK to SLC. Forty five minute delay getting replacement for flight attendant who became ill. Waiting to push back. Should still be fine for connection to Jackson Hole.)
Vivian is 16 ½ and a junior in high school. For fall semester, she attended The American School of Madrid. She and Marena would like to attend different colleges after graduation; and they asked to go abroad separately as a way to test things out. Vivian was homesick at first, and saying goodbye was hard, but she has had a great experience living with a family in Madrid. Her homestay parents, Rebeca and Santi, are both teachers at her school, and the two boys, Gael and Santi, are in 4th and 5th grade. She has loved being part of their family; and when we video chat I can tell by the look on her face how much she enjoys the boys. It’s a motherly, affectionate look I have not seen in Vivian before, being the youngest in the family. She enjoys her classes, and has made good friends from all over the world. Of the dozen new 11th grade families, we were the only ones from the US. Vivian said there are definitely differences between the students and their approach to school. She also mentioned that in Spain, she appreciates being treated more like an adult versus here in the US. When she goes into stores around Madrid, they treat her like any other patron. In the US, she feels that adults treat teenagers with disregard and less respect. Don’t worry, Viv, I get that sometimes – like when I go into a Prada store wearing Birkenstocks. The ability to video chat has been so nice, but our favorite family Christmas present from last year, Furbo, has been a game changer. Furbo is an interactive dog camera that lets us toss treats to Willa and Gus; and we all love it. They can watch the dogs from their phone app, say hello, and swipe up to toss a treat. The only problem is that by the end of the day, I often have to send texts threatening to shut down Furbo if they keep swiping. But, there are advantages. Last week, I was at my computer and Vivian texted me saying “Mom, Gus got into your bag and is eating something”. I ran to the other room and grabbed a bag of candy away from him. Thank you, Vivian, for the long distance babysitting!
Marena spent her semester at The American School in Switzerland in Lugano, which is in southern Switzerland about 40 miles from Milan, Italy. It is a boarding school, so although Marena was homesick, the adjustment seemed faster because her dorm of new students were all in the same boat. Students come from over 60 nations; and she’s made friends from Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, Colombia, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Russia. Like Vivian, Marena has had a great experience of adventure, travel, and learning in a different environment. In her US History class, she is the only American. It has been very enlightening experiencing how her teacher explains events, how her classmates respond and the questions they ask. She said the anniversary of 9/11 was hard. Her teacher took her aside and said this would be a difficult lesson for her. He would never be able to give this same lesson in the US because his explanations/descriptions would be too emotional for American students; but with students from Bolivia, Brazil, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Argentina, it was important for him to give this talk. At the end of the lesson, Marena realized she was the only one in tears. Not many people know that Marena has synesthesia, a condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. Marena’s strongest type of synesthesia is that she sees people and sometimes locations in color. She says each person is a certain color that never changes. (Vivian is the only person she has encountered that has no color.) Numbers and months take on specific spatial locations for her; so when you say “8” or “February”, Marena “sees” them in specific relative spacial locations. If you’re interested in learning more, there’s a fascinating book and podcast that a friend sent me called Mirror Touch by a doctor who not only has Marena’s type of synesthesia, but also mirror touch, where he can physically feel what people around him feel. Yikes. I wish my kids had mirror touch, so they could experience my pain and struggles of parenting them from birth to adulthood. I have some funny stories related to Marena’s synesthesia, but I will save them for her wedding reception toast, along with some very cute baby videos.
After successfully selling the company last year, John recently transitioned out of his CEO role after five years of commuting to southern CA and Utah. It’s been a great run, and we are so thankful for this time we have together; now John can fully appreciate our home in Jackson Hole. He has time to ask me where the Vitamix is (the far right cabinet next to the toaster oven), how much to feed the dogs (two level scoops for Willa, two heaping scoops for Gus), and why DirecTV is out (when there’s lots of snowfall, the satellite dish has to be brushed off). I got rid of four kids and gained another one. I’m slowly getting to know Jackson Hole; and have started to get involved with this vibrant and active community. I am on the boards of the twins’ school (Jackson Hole Community School); and an organization called Cultivate, a non-profit that supports organizations in their training and development of differently abled employees; and recently I was asked to join the board of St. John’s Hospital Foundation. After leaving the conveniences of the Bay Area, there are some exciting developments in the Jackson Hole area that has us jumping for joy. Instacart is now delivering – although I have yet to receive a successful delivery. Whether there are not enough shoppers or the demand is too high or both, I will keep trying. And, most exciting of all, Costco will be opening this August in Idaho Falls. John is now only 85 short miles away from his nirvana.
After my travels these past four months (Madrid, Milan, Lugano, Dusseldorf, Amsterdam, Banff, Scottsdale, SF, Laguna Beach, Miami, Amherst, Nashville, Fort Myers), my favorite experience was in Salt Lake City Airport. Coming down the escalator to baggage claim, you are greeted by crowds of families anxiously awaiting their young adult returning from their 1-2 year service missions. I search the eager and anxious faces and look for the mom or dad. It’s not hard to find them; and it’s not hard to get teary and excited with them. My last time going down the escalator, I caught the eye of a waiting mom – and I knew I needed to see the reunion. As the young woman came down the escalator, the mom’s physical excitement gave way to a look of wonder and curiosity at the unknowing impact of a heart and soul transformed by experiences. As they embraced, there was no swaying, no motherly hand caressing her daughter’s head, just stillness. We were all still. And, I think they could feel and hear each other’s heartbeat. Vivian and Marena have only been gone four months, but I can’t wait to feel those heartbeats.
(I missed my connection in SLC to Jackson Hole and had to stay overnight at an airport hotel. But, because of that, I was able to hang out in baggage claim and watch this reunion.)
We wish you all a wonderful holiday season, and hope to spend many hours with you in the coming year.
May, John, Jeffrey, Eva, Vivian, Marena, Willa & Gus