Each year, as Thanksgiving comes to a close, I start to think about writing this holiday letter. The kids are home; and it is the only reliable few days to have our family picture taken for the card. But, as always by the second week of December, I’m staring at a blank page. Usually, my writer’s block comes from being overwhelmed by all the things that have happened during the year and deciding what stories to share. This year is different. I used to love writing updates on the kids because I would remember stories and events in their lives that would give me insight into who they are and who they were becoming. I learned as I reflected; and my kids learned about themselves through my eyes. Now that John and I are in our second year without kids at home, I have less stories to share. Their stories are now shared with me second hand via our family grext – in pictures, videos, Instagram links. To me these texts are not just stories of their present, but also reminders of their past. So, when the kids decided to have a sibling weekend in Austin where Jeffrey and Eva now live, they sent pictures of them together in swimsuits by a river bank and eating BBQ at a restaurant along with quick details about their adventures. But, what I also saw was their 10, 7 and 4 year old versions at Poipu beach with ruffled swimsuits and Quicksilver swim trunks, and sitting at the Olive Garden in Palo Alto grabbing breadsticks. Every present story a reminder to me of the past. I love seeing them as young adults – being together and loving each other. But, I also appreciate that now these are their own stories to tell. I can feel my time as family storyteller coming to a close; and I think I’ll wait a couple more years until the twins graduate college to write that final chapter. For now, I have enough material to share; but I eagerly stand by via phone/Facetime/text to hear their own interpretations of the stories of their lives.
Jeffrey is 24 and lives in Austin, TX. In August, he got a new job as a software engineer with Google Cloud. He moved from Philadelphia to Austin; and we helped him move into a condo in the Zilker neighborhood. Work life is different for this generation. Sometimes he’s in the office, sometimes he’s working at home. John and I lament the lack of in-person interaction between co-workers this added flexibility causes; but I cannot complain when it allows him to come home for Thanksgiving for a week, outside of the hectic travel days. Jeffrey is truly a young adult now- he makes retirement contributions, tax withholds, and is very budget-focused. He takes advantage of cash incentives for riding his bike to work and uses an app to calculate his monthly budget. Despite his new-found frugality, he will not sacrifice an indulgent meal. His strategy for eating at a Michelin star restaurant – eat ramen for the next 2 weeks. For me, the ultimate sign of his maturity came during Thanksgiving holiday. Jeffrey announced that he wanted to spatchcock the turkey. (Before I remembered that this is the culinary term for butterflying a bird, I thought he was up to his old pre-pubescent shenanigans – and at first I thought he said “cocksplatching”.) The turkey was super moist and our best turkey that we can remember. After the meal, as we all started to collect dishes to clean up, I turned to the oven and found Jeffrey bent down with his head inside. I thought, what kind of experiment is he up to now? Lo and behold, he was scrubbing the oven. I’m not gonna lie, I got a little choked up.
Eva graduated from Vanderbilt in May and is an Associate Consultant with Bain Consulting in Austin. She shares a house with a fellow Bain Associate in the Clarksville/Tarrytown area. We’re excited Eva and Jeffrey are living in the same city. (When Jeffrey was selecting his city preferences for Google, he put Austin down as one of his top choices because of Eva.) Helping her move in was a great way for me to see mighty Eva in action. She was organized, in control and handled complications quickly but carefully with movers, car delivery and unpacking. After graduation she and I drove her car from Nashville back home to Scottsdale. She talked about her close group of girlfriends and wondered about life after college. She described them and their relationships in a way that only four years of living through such a defining time in life together could engender. I sensed her anxiety about living in a new city without the comfort of close friends, but just as strongly I sensed her hopes and fears about her lasting relationships with these friends who have become her family. I thought about my college roommates and shared my stories. As I talked about my get togethers to celebrate 50th and 55th birthdays and yearly weekend getaways with my college roommates, I saw the look of acknowledgement on Eva’s face – and we both knew she’d get to have this too.
Marena is 19 and a sophomore at Harvard, majoring in Sociology and minoring in Economics. Marena had the added advantage of seeing John and I several times this fall because of our visits to see friends/family and business trips in Boston. (Hopefully, she sees it that way too!) She is living with her same rooming group from freshman year in a four-person suite in Currier House – the same house where John lived. It’s really nice to see them connect with their shared college experiences. Marena also has the same professor that John had for the same class. The one area where they have vastly different experiences is in Spanish. John came to Harvard without having taken any language in high school. Passing the language requirement was excruciating and traumatizing for him. So much so that when the twins had the opportunity to go to Spanish immersion elementary school, John was adamant that we pull them out of Jeffrey and Eva’s school to attend. It was one of the best decisions for the twins, aside from going to Jackson Hole for high school. Marena is working towards a citation in Spanish and just finished her ten-page paper for her Spanish literature class. She did not ask John to proofread.
Vivian is 19 and a sophomore at Vanderbilt, double majoring in Human Organization & Development and Anthropology. This summer both she and Marena worked as tellers at a bank in Jackson. The girls have never been drawn to “desk” jobs, but they really enjoyed working at the bank. Because they are fluent in Spanish, they served many of the Spanish speaking clients and eventually those clients became regulars for Vivian and Marena. They were eager to come to work, and I sensed that it felt satisfying for them to know that they were so valued by the clients and the bank – they said it was also a lot easier than being a camp counselor. Marena and Vivian continue to be “thick as thieves” doing justice to the origins of this term in their complicit activities of finding ways to be together. They both arranged their class schedules so they had no Friday classes. They flew to visit Jeffrey and Eva for ACL (Austin City Limits) in Oct; and in November Vivian came to Boston for the Harvard/Yale game and together they flew home to Jackson for Thanksgiving. This summer Vivian will be doing an internship with Boston Consulting Group in Austin, TX. You don’t need to be the sharpest knife in the drawer to figure out where Marena will be trying to find a summer job!
John and I are enjoying daily life without kids at home. Dropping the twins off at school and helping the older two move into their apartments was easier this year. It felt more natural and normal being with just John and the dogs; and our place felt like home rather than a place staged for open house. Arguments between John and I are not as much about the kids or family logistics, but about disciplining the dogs (John’s Achilles heel) and waiting for each other to watch episodes of Wednesday and White Lotus together. We have been doing some renovations to our Scottsdale home and finally replacing furniture we took with us from our Palo Alto home. Jeffrey and Eva were more than happy to inherit the hand-me-down items, with Jeffrey getting the much-loved Costco sectional couch that they grew up with. We are excited with some of our upgraded pieces, but I could not resist the nostalgia – and John, the price – of a Costco piece. We’ll let our future visitors see if they can tell which is which! It has been a year of saying yes to everything – every opportunity to travel and to visit family and friends. In addition to visiting the kids in their respective cities, we traveled to Napa, St. Barths, St. Martin, Marco Island, Las Vegas, Maui, Colorado, NYC, Washington DC, Chicago, Turks & Caicos. My contributions to our family grext are now pictures of John and I doing something fun or with friends and family, rather than articles like safe Ubering or dangers of marijuana that I used to feel obliged to forward. Wherever I go, I always keep one item in the pocket of my travel bag. It’s a smooth gray stone engraved with the name of a friend who passed away eight years ago. I’ve also written the names of other friends who have passed away. Maria, Mike, Liz, Amit, Rob, Ellie, Lora. A reminder to say yes.
We wish you all a joyful holiday season, and hope to see many of you in the coming year. Let us know if you’d like company on any of your adventures. We hope to say yes.
May, John, Jeffrey, Eva, Marena, Vivian, Willa & Gus