A Letter to Our Oldest Daughter on Your 9th Birthday

Amelia! Today, you are nine years old! I used to be amazed at how old you were and how big you were getting and now I marvel at your maturity and how much fun you are to hang out with.

Your favorite color is still turquoise, but you also really love pink and purple and can mix patterns like no one else. You love the Hamilton Soundtrack (who doesn’t‽) and can tolerate your sister’s obsession with the Frozen and Moana soundtracks. You’re still taking piano lessons but have also transitioned to voice lessons. It’s a natural fit; you’ve been singing for years.

You love hearing the news and what’s going on in the world. You have a lot of questions about the world and we walk a fine line of shielding you from the harsh realities of the world and giving you the answers you’re looking for. It’s not that we don’t want you to know or that we don’t think you can handle it, but you have a tendency toward worrying, so we try to limit the things you have to worry about if we can.

Just the other day there was a soft lockdown at a high school in Tucson. I mentioned it in passing and you wanted to know why and for how long and if it had been resolved. You weren’t satisfied until I gave you all the available details. Yes, you should do the drills, but try not to let the fear or anxiety control your day to day decisions.

This last year has been so fun and you just make me so proud to be your dad. You love reading. You read so much and widely. Right now you have two Calvin & Hobbes books that you carry from room to room. You’re reading the 4th Harry Potter and the young readers edition of Hidden Figures. Almost all of your Christmas gifts were books and you loved it. You go in to school early so you can read and your teacher started sending you to the 4th grade class for reading. It’s a bit more challenging, but it seems like you don’t really enjoy it much. I can imagine it would be weird to be the 3rd grader in a classroom of 4th graders and you’re only there for one subject.

When we first started listening to the Hamilton cast recording you had so many questions about his life and family that I had to reread the biography just so I could keep up. You just have this insatiable curiosity which I love but sometimes have trouble keeping up with it.

You’re brave and you run really fast. You’re polite, helpful, and generous. But you’re also ridiculously stubborn and would argue with a fence post until it gave up and said, “okay, fine.”

An interesting thing about this past year is how much you want to be big and sometimes you want to be a little kid again. You bought presents for me, your mom, and your sister at your school. You picked them out and afterward you said to me, “I love when people open presents that I got for them!”

So I thought about it for a second and said, “Okay, then that means you’re ready to be Santa.” And I told you about how Santa isn’t really a person, but something we all share to bring happiness and a little bit of magic to people we love. When you’re Santa you can’t tell anyone, but you give gifts or things to someone who needs them. You took it pretty well and you were really excited to help us be Santa for your sister, but later, on Christmas Eve, I think you still wanted to believe.

I tucked you in after you’d fallen asleep and you rolled over and still asleep said, “Did Santa come?”

I said yes, and you smiled and fell back to sleep.

Amelia, your 9th birthday comes at a weird time. There’s a lot of fear and despondency about our future and I don’t know what is going to happen. What I know is there are reasons for hope. It takes a village to raise a child and so know that you are surrounded by wonderful people who have a tremendous capacity for love and compassion and who will help you know what’s right and wrong. Your kindness and thoughtfulness will guide you, but remember to be strong. Stand up for yourself and for others, and remember that so long as you and others are willing to do what is right, there is hope.

And rebellions are built on hope.

Happy birthday, Amelia! I love you, mija.

A Letter to Our Youngest Daughter on Your 3rd Birthday

You are 3 years old today, Violet.img_0055

You’ve grown so much over the past year and your personality has really shone through lately. Violet, you are still incredibly sweet and surprisingly considerate for someone your age. You can be stubborn and selfish, to be sure, but you also spend a lot of time making sure others are happy or comfortable. If you see something red you’ll say, “Dad, look, red! You’re favorite kind!” Or you’ll say, “Dad, look, that’s turkwiss (turquoise), Amelia’s favorite kind!” Your mom says her favorite color is rainbow—which I think is a copout, but whatever—so she never really gets a shoutout.

You’re fiercely independent and adventurous. For a while you did this thing where you’d start to do something and to dissuade anyone from stopping you from doing it, you’d say, “don’t worry ‘bout me, okay?”

You’d start climbing on the counter in your bathroom to get the fish food you know you aren’t supposed to touch. “Don’t worry about me, okay, Dad? Don’t worry about me!”

For your second birthday we were visiting family in Portland and we bought you this toy dump truck that made a lot of rumbling noises and drove. You loved it. You still like big trucks and tractors, but you also love motorcycles. You called them monkle-shidles for a while, but just the other day you said, “Mom, look at those motorcycles!” and I realized I needed to write it down or I’d forget.

I love seeing your brain work through things. In the mornings you say, “I waked up,” and when we’re playing catch you say, “I catched it!” You’ve got the rule right, but English is hard; you’ll figure it out soon enough.

Your favorite color is blue, but sometimes you tell me that I have to share red with you and Amelia has to share turquoise with you. You love the music from Frozen. But it’s not just the music. You love to reenact scenes with your dolls and tell us the play-by-play when you’re singing the songs from the movie.

“Dad, here’s where she runs up the stairs!” or “…and then she shoots her with ice!”

What’s amazing is you’ve only seen the movie once or twice and remember it scene for scene. You also love the movie Zootopia. You pronounce it “Topia” with the emphasis on the “pi” (toe-PEE-ah).

You love swimming. You hate wearing any sort of safety device. The other day you caught a grasshopper and were so proud. You just stood there beaming as you told me all about how you caught it and how it lost a leg in the process. You’re a great runner and are still learning how pedals work. I love how much you love being outside. I’m looking forward to taking you hiking without having to carry you, though I think you might have some trouble staying on the trail…

Violet, I’ve been trying to write this for a month and it just keeps getting harder and harder. None of this will make sense to you right now or even a few years from now, but this has been a crazy year and I have no idea what the future holds. You’re Latina. And while I’m very proud of that—and I hope you will be, too—you will be treated differently because of it. I want to tell you that as you get older it won’t matter and the world is a better place, but I don’t know that. I don’t know what’s going to happen. We live in a country that tells you you can be anything you want, and I want to believe that. I want to believe that if you work hard you can be President. I love this country and I know humanity’s better angels will win the day.


It won’t happen automagically. We’ve got to do it together. So here’s the ask, Violet. Whenever you read this, please remember: be kind. Be compassionate. Demand better. In the face of insurmountable odds, be courageous and live with fortitude and determination. You come from a family of veterans, union organizers, activists, artists, and lots of strong women. Live that legacy. And always remember, we’re all in this together.

2016-07-24-10-54-48-1I love you, Violet. Happy birthday.

Heroes for My Daughters: Bonnie Tinker

img_0047When I first met Bonnie Tinker she was coming out of jail. I was legal observing for a large anti-war march where she and her son had been arrested. Her wife, Sara, waited patiently outside the jail with us for hours while Bonnie and their son were booked on various charges. Police had used unprovoked violence, pepper-spray, rubber bullets, and bean-bag rounds against unarmed activists in a misguided attempt at crowd control.

Late into the night we were getting updates from inside the jail and I would talk to Sara to give her any news we’d received. Finally, in the early morning hours Bonnie and her son were released. I wrote down their names, charges and court dates so we could provide them with attorneys, then made sure all of them had a safe ride home.

I didn’t think of Bonnie again until I volunteered to legal observe an action organized by the Seriously Pissed-Off Grannies. Sara and Bonnie, both in their 60’s, joined other older women (and later, men) to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were arrested for smearing red paint on the outside of military recruiters’ offices and for sitting-in, and obstructing access to the offices. Bonnie and Sara were also arrested for blocking the movement of a tank during a parade here in Portland. Bonnie was holding a sign with a dove which read “War is not the answer.”

Bonnie was a tireless activist in Portland. The Seriously Pissed-Off Grannies staged courageous sit-ins, demonstrations, and protests throughout the last part of the Bush II years and waged a weekly campaign against military recruiters. Bonnie was also founder and director of an organization called Love Makes a Family, which supports “nontraditional” families, specifically those with same-sex parents. At a time when others would presume to define who and what family is, Bonnie stood up and said simply, “love is what makes a family.”

Bonnie Tinker died in July 2009.

She was right-hooked by a truck while riding her bike at a conference in Virginia. She was an abuse survivor and activist who worked every day for peace and justice. Bonnie Tinker is a hero, not because she was larger than life (she wasn’t) or changed the world (for many, she did), but because she touched so many lives, and continues to inspire others to work for change. When I think of the few times I met her, I am still touched by her life, her work, and her passion. I hope my activism can inspire others and honor her memory.

We all have something to share and to contribute to the greater good. The world needs no more inaction. If Bonnie taught me anything, it’s that you must find your passion and live for it every single day with love and honesty.

The Tale of René Vietto

img_0048In 1934, a 20 year-old kid named René Vietto was racing the Tour de France for the first time with the French National team. At the time, participants rode either as individuals or as members of national teams. Vietto flatted the first two stages and lost considerable time in the General Classification. While his team leader, Antonin Magne, was winning overall, Vietto won stages 7, 9 and 11–all mountain stages–to climb to 3rd place overall.

In stage 16, Vietto led the charge up the largest climb of the day, Col de Puymorens. He was followed by Magne, his team leader and an Italian rider, Giuseppe Martano, in 2nd place. On the descent, Magne hit a pothole and broke his front wheel. Vietto had no knowledge of the crash and kept riding. When a race official informed him of what happened, Vietto turned around and climbed back up the Puymorens to give Magne his front wheel. A photographer snapped a photo of Vietto sitting on a rock wall with his bike weeping as the peloton raced past.

img_0049Vietto eventually got another wheel, finished the stage and ultimately came in 5th overall and won the Mountain Classification. Vietto raced for years, never winning the Tour. His highest finish was 2nd in 1939. In 1947, Vietto lost a toe to sepsis and kept racing.

Like few other sports–golf, comes to mind–cycling is not just about competing against your opponents. It is equally, if not more so, about competing against the road, the mountains, the elements, and one’s own mind. It’s stories like Vietto’s that make cycling, and sports in general, come to life and amaze and inspire us. Or maybe, it’s because as cyclists, we revel in that suffering. A modern day self-flagellation, wherein we hope to derive some wisdom or clarity in the process. Whether it’s in the incessant cold drizzle of January or a long, steady climb in June, we spin our way through the discomfort and pain to find some greater understanding about ourselves or about the world. I don’t know anyone who loves riding a bike who does it because it’s easy. Most of us want it to be difficult–need it to be painful. Greg Lemond famously said that it doesn’t get easier, you just get faster.

You bet your ass.

A Letter to Our Oldest Daughter on Your 8th Birthday

img_0039How in the world are you already eight years old? We’ve had such a big year! We moved–again. Although, this one should be for good.

Amelia, you’re a great kid. You get upset with your sister sometimes, but that’s understandable. You still love turquoise and making cozy little nests around the house with pillows and blankets. You’re slightly less picky about your foods. You love pizza, but also brussels sprouts and salad. You still hate crust. We’ve been on a couple of longer bike rides together, but you need a bike with more gears. You’ve already said you want a mountain bike before a road bike. You’re playing piano and genuinely seem to enjoy it. I love hearing you practice. You are deliberate and concentrate so hard on getting the notes right. Your teacher has nothing but good things to say about your ability.

I know we’ve moved you around a lot, but that should be over now. I think Arizona agrees with you. You’re mostly an indoor reading kid, but you love hiking and camping. You may not want to go, but when you’re outside, you love it.

Your tía Ang shared something with me the other day and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I don’t think any of it was necessarily new to me, but it helped as a reminder of how important the words we use on a daily basis can build a greater understanding of a larger concept. Something I tell you today may not help you today, or even tomorrow. But if I tell you something today, and next week, and next month maybe it can have a lasting effect on how you see the world.

You said a girl in your class was tickling you and you wanted her to stop. We talked about it with you that night, and all the things came up. It’s your body. If you’re not having fun, they have to stop. If they’re not having fun, you have to stop. Right now, you don’t see where this is going, but you will.

img_0040There’s other things I try to tell you that may not get through now, but will in the long run. You came home with straight A’s for the last quarter and got a treat for making the principal’s honor roll. I want you to know I’m proud of you, but I also want you to know that it’s not tied to that. I’m proud of you. I’m proud of you because you WANT to know things. You like getting the right answer because you like learning. I’m proud of you because you’re an awesome kid who just happens to be a genius.

Some of my favorite times with you are sitting on your bed, tucking you in, and talking about things. You are a sensitive kid with big thoughts and I have to sort of remind myself that you’re not MY KID, you’re your own person with your own dreams and feelings and you experience the world in a completely different way. I’m just here to keep you safe and help you be the adult you’re going to be. So the other day when we were talking about the things you worry about, it made my heart ache. When I was a kid, I would get up in the middle of the night looking for a toy I’d misplaced a year or two before. Other times I would lay awake worrying about going to hell or wondering which of my friends were going to hell. And I thought of all of these people I know who have varying degrees of anxiety so I tried to take that burden from you. I said, “hey, let’s let Siri worry about it.”

And so we have a plan. We’re going to let Siri worry about when your library books are due or when to practice piano. Meanwhile, you can worry about being a kid.

A few weeks ago I shaved my beard for a job interview. You came in while I was shaving, looked at the sink, half full of water, and said, “wow, you must not care about California.” It’s times like this, when you’re simultaneously funny and honest, when I know you’re going to be okay.

Happy birthday, Amelia. I love you.