In 2013, I compared the tempo of our family life to that of a coffee shop versus the frenetic pace of an inner city that characterized the toddler days. “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.” Seven years later, and with Jeffrey and Eva out of the house, the atmosphere has been more like an ice cream shop – calm and organized, a respite from the outside world bringing back memories of youth, with patrons eager to enter as their senses are enticed by colorful choices of ice cream and the aroma of freshly baked waffle cones. We were enjoying this comfortable rhythm. Then the pandemic hit. At first, being locked down was cozy and exciting; and we savored our time together. We tried new recipes, made sourdough starter and bread, brewed kombucha, took classes and socialized on Zoom. In the process, we got to know each other – not just better, but in many ways for the first time – something that quantity and intensity of time was able to nourish. When Jeffrey and Eva come home from college, they return as different people; and Marena and Vivian are different to them. Those 10,000 hours I mentioned in last year’s letter are presciently significant. In John Herr terminology, “We were as happy as pigs in sh*t”. (You’re welcome for not letting John write these holiday letters, as these are the analogies you would be subjected to.) But, the accumulation of anxiety and uncertainty began to penetrate our idealistic enclave and the effects of island fever set in. Processes and communication broke down as we got in each other’s way, needing to find alternate avenues to reset. Once again, I had to get used to the volume impact that six people and two dogs create, with no end in sight. I felt like Lucy eating chocolates from the conveyer belt. Our idealistic ice cream shop was turning into a war zone (at least the kitchen was). But, by mid-summer with much patience and failed attempts at color-coded chore charts, the beautiful and vast Tetons to expand our living space, and John’s unrelenting humor; we got back to our smooth running operations. We all have our own unique stories, many of us experiencing difficult situations exacerbated and/or caused by the pandemic. I wrote down a quote from a book I read, but unfortunately cannot recall the book or source. “Staying positive doesn’t mean you have to be happy all the time. It means that even on hard days you know that there are better ones coming.” Buoyed by family and faith; we will make it through with hope – and an abundant supply of salted caramel ice cream with chocolate chip chunks.
Jeffrey is 22 and graduated from Amherst College in May, virtually in our family room. The celebration was not what we envisioned, but the pride in our first-born’s accomplishment was undiminished. Jeffrey is working as a software engineer for The Vanguard Group. His job is located just outside Philadelphia, but for now he’s working virtually from his bedroom wearing a nice shirt… and Crocs and tube socks. Although Jeffrey missed out on senior celebrations and his last golf season, he’s getting free room and board on a full time salary, and has not yet aged out under our golf club membership. For John and I, aside from no more tuition and health insurance payments, we get free IT service. Lots of silver linings. Jeffrey’s job search was like a long first at-bat. The pandemic was not giving him any breaks, and he had to fight off a lot of pitches with foul balls until he saw the pitch he was looking for, and finally got a solid hit down the middle. As baseball fans know, a long at-bat favors the batter – the pitcher gets tired, and you get to see more of their pitches so you can better predict what’s coming. It’s not an ideal at-bat (better to get that hit right away than be down or full on the count), but a long at-bat can show your patience, smarts, and determination. Jeffrey’s first hit in the big leagues! Play smart, play hard, trust yourself, be decisive. If you hesitate or aren’t paying attention, you might get picked off first base. And, as your mom I get to say: if you’re going to steal second base, don’t slide your metal cleats into the shortstop – play nice.
Eva is 20 and a junior at Vanderbilt. The effects of sheltering in place confirmed Eva’s extrovert nature, not that there was ever really any doubt. She had a great internship experience with First Western Trust in Jackson, but envisioned a summer of meeting other college students in town for lunch and going out after work. When the social gatherings could not happen, we all worried for Eva’s mental health with no social interaction. Jackson is not the town she grew up in, and many of her high school friends are in California. After I made some desperate calls to friends with college students, Eva got back on track and enjoyed a socially distant, outdoor summer of activities with some new friends. Although the pandemic derailed many of Eva’s plans (no semester abroad, virtual summer internship); it enabled her to indulge in her passion for cooking. Eva was a cooking fiend, making breakfast/lunch/dinner as the other kids got in on the act. Between March 11 and September, I did not plan or cook a meal; although I was a great sous chef. It was culinary heaven – penne alla vodka, lobster mac and cheese, peach cobbler, bolognese, maple glazed salmon, bison ribeye with chimichurri sauce, chicken tikka masala, experimenting with sous vide and constructing beautiful cheese platters. Many might feel a sense of parental satisfaction with their kids’ college degrees or gainful employment. I get that feeling sitting at the dinner table.
Vivian and Marena are 17 and seniors in high school. I’ve just spent 2 minutes rereading this previous sentence so I can fully appreciate its ramifications and all that came before it. Be prepared for next year’s empty nest holiday letter, which will start off with “Yippee!!!!” The girls came back from their semesters abroad last December with wonderful memories; and they know how fortunate they are to have had those experiences before the world changed. During our Thanksgiving “gratefulness roundtable”, Jeffrey commented that even as the oldest and the traditional one to be looked up to; he’s the one who looks up to the girls and admires them for their outlook on life and how they handle life’s challenges. Marena and Vivian both have a calm, thoughtful demeanor and presence even during periods of stress or anxiety whether from school, college applications, golf, or personal trials. Oftentimes, what helps individuals cope is their ability to be compassionately empathetic of others and in turn use those skills to help themselves. Having each other has allowed Vivian and Marena to easily and readily practice their empathic skills. Vivian tends to be a bit more cognitively empathetic; Marena more emotionally empathetic; and together those Wonder Twin powers are at their best! You can see this in action when they watch The Bachelorette. There is a constant running commentary as if you’ve logged into a chat room discussion on emotional vulnerability, clutch sensitivity, and questions of integrity. And, there’s nothing like a pandemic to get us all on the reality show bandwagon. It’s like the proverbial covering your face with your hands, but you can’t help peeking. Well, we’ve peeked and now Jeffrey claims his spot on the couch adding to the peanut gallery exclaiming, “Oh no, that’s a bad move; he should not have said that to her.” John is the only one immune to the rose ceremony. He’s got Fargo on in the other room.
There are two qualities to John that have made him the family hero during this pandemic. When you combine his love for Costco with his OCD-like need for cleanliness and preparedness; you get a perfect storm. While others worried about their supply of paper and cleaning products; I needed merely to open our pantry, hall closet or bathroom cabinets to find cases of sanitizing wipes, Dial soap and paper products galore. This is a normal inventory stock for John. When he goes to Costco, he naturally pandemic-shops, adding toilet paper, Clorox wipes, and Listerine to his cart. We lasted five months before needing to buy more toilet paper; and we could have gone longer, but I didn’t want John to start twitching from range anxiety. After John sold and left his last company, we had exciting travel plans to take advantage of his free time. When those plans vanished like millions of germs on contact, John had to find an outlet. As I’ve said in the past, John has only two settings – full throttle and sleep. Full throttle in a confined space with five others is not pretty. Think again of Lucy and her chocolates, as the speed of the conveyor belt further increases. In addition to his board roles with several companies, John worked on our taxes, financial planning, and analyzed our spending like a budget meeting. We all needed him to find an outlet, especially the twins who were used to getting away with adding high-end face creams, lash conditioners and hair elixirs to the grocery purchases. Jackson does not have a CVS or Walgreens, so these purchases are made at the grocery store (or Sephora online, but that’s always on their dime). In August, when a new and closer Costco opened in Idaho Falls 85 miles away, John found an excuse to road trip there several times a week. John has had many successes in his life; but retirement was an unqualified failure, even if the pandemic was a large factor. He recently became CEO of another growth stage SaaS company called Arcoro. We all let out a sigh of relief; and the twins have now resumed their hair and skincare regimens.
This is our third winter in Jackson Hole. When we moved here for Vivian and Marena’s sophomore year of high school, I told myself I just needed to survive three winters. Although the snow and the winter scenery are beautiful with many outdoor activities to take advantage of, it’s a looong winter. So finding somewhere to escape for a few weeks throughout the winter and early spring months once the girls graduate was a priority for me. We found a place in Scottsdale, AZ where there are more golf courses and hiking trails than Dial soap in our bathroom cabinet. John and I are excited to explore the Sonoran landscape. If there is one thing I am grateful for besides our health and that of our extended families; it is the unexpected time together, especially the moments watching the kids in the kitchen, interacting and sharing stories. I kept experiencing déja vu or nostalgia. Why did this feel familiar? I realized that I have played out this scenario in my head throughout their childhood. As toddlers, they sat on the kitchen island stools, legs swaying as I pushed them in. After a busy afternoon of carpools, baseball, golf, and volleyball, I would serve them Costco meatballs heated up in the toaster oven with a side of baby carrots, relying on the theory that raw veggies are healthier. I would lean back against the sink with the auto-touch faucet (from the days when they were too short to reach the hot/cold handles) and try to envision them as young adults – eating, talking, and laughing in the kitchen. And here we are. I just didn’t know it would involve lobster mac and cheese and The Bachelorette.
We wish you all a joyous and healthy holiday season; and we hope to see many of you in person as early in 2021 as possible!!
May, John, Jeffrey, Eva, Vivian, Marena, Willa & Gus
July 10, 2020 27th Anniversary