During the past 30 years of writing these holiday letters, there have been many milestones – births (2003: “They were born on May 2, Marena at 7lbs 11oz and Vivian at 7lbs 1oz”); first days of school (2009: “With Jeffrey transitioning to a new middle school, and Marena and Vivian moving to a different elementary school, Eva in 4th grade has been our rock of steadiness during the super hectic mornings of getting to 3 different schools.”); launching the kids off to each of their cities and empty nesting (2021: “John and I flew with Eva, Vivian and Marena, and nine pieces of checked luggage; minivans reserved in three cities, and Bed Bath and Beyond dorm lists in hand.”). This year is also a big year of milestones for John and I – our 30th wedding anniversary, 30th grad school reunion, 35th college reunion, 25 years of Costco membership. But, the milestone that has hit me the most, is 30 years of holiday letters – I just finished reading them all. From talking about our lives as a couple, our jobs, the births of each child, their activities, schools, growing into young adults and family life – it really has happened in the blink of an eye. A quote attributed to Albert Einstein says “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.” Moments like now feel like time doesn’t exist. With the twins graduating college in 2025, next year will be my final holiday letter and the end of my role as family storyteller. Now, I find myself searching for words to describe the last 20 years of raising four kids. There is a series on AppleTV called The Buccaneers, a period drama set in the 1870s about young American women entering London society as debutantes. The American women are bold, fun-loving and speak their mind; and many London aristocrats look down on them. But, one of the London debutantes, observing the mens’ fascination with these women says “I used to think they needed to be taught how to behave. But, now I’m beginning to wonder if it’s us who need to learn how to live.” As I look back on the stories in my letters, I hope that for the first few years we taught our kids how to behave, and the rest of the time, I hope we taught them how to live.
Jeffrey is 25 and has been working for Google Cloud in Austin, TX since August 2022. His love for food and cuisine continues and he’s been enjoying exploring the Austin food scene. Those of us who know Jeffrey know that he takes his food seriously. For Thanksgiving he once again spatchcocked the turkey, but this year brined it in buttermilk. He made homemade pasta; and his morning coffee routine is like watching a chemist in a lab. His day job as a software engineer is in stark contrast to his creative soul that loves to cook, paint, plant and make. Having Jeffrey and Eva in the same city has been a joy to watch as they begin to establish their independent lives, with the added benefit of family connections. (He also brought Willa, our 9 year old labradoodle, to come live with him in January.) Reading my past letters, I realize how much Jeffrey appreciates having sisters. In 2003, 5 year old Jeffrey said “We are so lucky to have four kids in the family! I’m so glad I have sisters!” In 2004, I commented “his greatest skill is being able to make Vivian and Marena smile.”. And, in 2005 Jeffrey said “Maybe Marena and Vivian will be like Tiki and Ronde Barber.” (identical twin NFL players) There is a Māori term, whaunangatanga, a concept of being and belonging and family connectedness. I know that part of what brought Jeffrey to Austin when he knew that Eva would be living there, is his sense of whaunangatanga – or the fact that Eva makes great chicken cutlets. During Jeffrey’s teenage years, I used to say that he could never think beyond his next meal. That might still be the case.
Eva is 23 and in her second year at Bain Consulting in Austin. If Jeffrey is content in his whaunangatanga, Eva has always searched to expand hers. She’s all in – exploring her new city and making friends with eagerness and passion. But, I think she realized two things: one, it takes a lot of effort to build your new community, and two, sometimes you just can’t replace family and friends who know you to your core. She’s had siblings, college and childhood friends visit and has traveled to see them when she needed the comfort and ease that only they could provide. After a year and a half in her new city, I sense her new friends, roommates, and colleagues are now becoming part of her comfort circle as well. It wasn’t easy moving to a new city, but one of Eva’s best inherent traits – perseverance – saw her through this transition. Eva just came back from Patagonia, Argentina where she participated in a sixty mile race. Through three days and over 15,000ft of elevation in various weather conditions and terrain, she said it was her most challenging experience. I think she’s forgetting 2005 when she exclaimed “That’s the problem with my life!!!” – sobbing and pointing at Marena & Vivian when they invaded her space and belongings. I remember initially worrying about Eva as a little girl sandwiched between a mischievous older brother and needy twin sisters, but she’s done just fine.
Vivian is 20 and a junior at Vanderbilt majoring in Human Organization & Development and Anthropology. This past summer she did her internship at Boston Consulting Group in Austin, TX and will again work there this summer. She lived with Jeffrey, who was more than happy to share rent for a few months. This coming semester Vivian will be in Florence, Italy. Planning her semester abroad, Vivian has been in her element, anticipating all the independence, freedom and adventure that lies ahead. In high school, Vivian would regularly take drives by herself into town or the Tetons just to get away and have time to herself. Even though Marena and Vivian are best friends and partners in crime, I think the constant togetherness with her twin in addition to growing up in a family of four kids constrained Vivian’s natural tendency towards independence. When the twins are together, they share themselves fully with each other, but when Vivian is on her own, she seems to be able to fully share herself with others. Granted, they still bicker and fight over clothes – but now it’s done on FaceTime and instead of bitterly throwing the item in question into the victor’s bedroom, it’s sent in the mail. When they’re home from school and both leave the kitchen a mess, Vivian will apologize, and then look at her sister and say “Marena..” with raised eyebrows in a blaming tone – just like in 2011 when she used to apologize by saying “We’re sorry for Marena’s behavior.”
Marena is 20 and a junior at Harvard majoring in Sociology and Spanish. Working in New York City at JP Morgan in their Asset Management division; she was the only one of the four kids not in Austin this summer. I thought she might feel lonely or left out, but the city’s allure more than made up for not being with her siblings. Jeffrey, Eva and Vivian all came to NYC to visit her at some point during the summer. She saw shows, ate Filipino food and spent time with college friends who were also there. She loved it so much, she’ll be with JP Morgan again this summer. Marena has come a long way from her days of entering the Spanish immersion program in 1st grade, which was traumatic for her and Vivian – mostly because they were leaving the school where Jeffrey, Eva and all their friends attended. In 2009 I wrote, “Tears before school, before going to bed, requesting to go back to her old school, constantly saying she doesn’t understand anything.” And Marena’s famous line: “How do you expect me to learn Spanish when I haven’t even mastered English?!?” I admit, she had a point, but it all worked out. The past two semesters, she took classes in Latin American Business Ethics and Spanish Literature, and will be taking a Spanish Public Health class next semester. (We’re not telling John that she’s also taking an English class on Taylor Swift instead of an upper-level Econ class. I’m all for it. If there was one on U2 when I was in college, I would have taken that instead of Statistics.)
John and I continue to enjoy our empty nest travels, with me tagging along John’s business trips to Europe. We started off the year in January with a week retreat at Canyon Ranch in Tucson. It was a great way to set the stage for a year of healthy practices – actualizing those practices was a little harder. We had lots of visitors in Scottsdale in Feb & March. In the spring, we went to Madrid, Barcelona, Sedona, Las Vegas, Boston, Nashville. During the summer we went to London, Croatia, Zurich, Park City. In the fall, we attended reunions/parents’ weekend in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Boston, visited grandparents in Marco Island, FL, and vacationed in Hawaii where we finally got COVID for the first time. I’ve also been traveling a lot to Las Vegas to see my favorite band, U2, perform in a new venue, The Sphere (three times so far, with a couple more scheduled in Feb & March). John always gets a little worried when the band goes on tour. In 2005 John asked me “If I get back to my high school weight, will you stop going to U2 concerts?” Fat chance. Daily life as a parent has changed. Instead of logistics planning and operational management of carpool schedules for school/sports/girl scouts and helping with schoolwork; I am now called upon for advice, talking through situations and oftentimes just listening. In 2016 I made an analogy that I was the CEO of our family and John was an active board member. I am happy to say that I have retired as CEO and have joined John as a board member. I remain on the board of the St. John’s Health Foundation in Jackson Hole, which I enjoy; and I help manage our rental properties in Palo Alto and Scottsdale, trading in color-coded carpool schedules for broken washing machines. John is hoping to take a break from his day job of running a software company, and perhaps join me on the concert circuit, but more likely on the golf course or hiking trail. I confess I feel as if I cheated a bit on this holiday letter – like a Greatest Hits album – sort of a Greatest Hits letter quoting from some of my favorites. At least I didn’t use ChatGPT4 or Dolly. Even though I love every holiday letter because it captures my impressions of our year as a family, 2015 was especially meaningful for me as I allude to the impending changes that are now my reality. I don’t necessarily want to live through all those moments again, but reminiscing keeps me mindful of whaunangatanga as the foundation of our family.
From our whānau to yours, Happy Holidays!
May, John, Jeffrey, Eva, Vivian, Marena, Willa and Gus
Jeffrey 25, Vivian 20, Eva 23, Marena 20
Gus 6, Willa 9