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 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.

A Letter to Oldest Daughter on Your 7th Birthday

img_0037This has been a busy year.

This is the year we are trying unschooling. It’s got pros and cons, but it’s been great getting to spend so much time with you. Your mom works really hard wearing all of the hats she has to wear and I know she really appreciates your help. You’re so good with your little sister. She doesn’t know how to share and gets really frustrated with you and you’re so patient and kind. You always forgive her. She’s been doing a little hair pulling which is when it gets really bad, but you do a great job with her overall.

This last year you learned to sew, you got a big kid bike, discovered Harry Potter, and you’re making some incredible art.

The other day you and I were driving to the store and you said, “Dad, I can’t wait to go camping again.” It made me so happy. For the past week, I’d been thinking, “I can’t wait for the weather to change so we can go camping.” It made me really happy to hear you felt the same way. I promise you, the first chance we get, we’re hitting the road.

It took me a while to realize that I’m not here to make you into the person I want you to be, but to help you be the person you are. There are so many things about you that I love to learn. You’ve always been pretty cautious and careful. You like to have a plan. That one will probably take some getting used to; your mom and I are pretty…laid back. And I know I say this every year, but you’re so funny. You used to be funny because you’re a kid and you did funny things. Now you’re legitimately funny. You intentionally say funny things. You also have a genuine curiosity and interest in the world. You’re a kid and you have a lot of questions, but you seem to genuinely like to find the answers. You like looking up words and hearing all about a particular subject. We spent a good few minutes at dinner learning about the origin and history of macaroni and cheese.

You love reading comic books and playing Citadels. You love riding your bike and would live at the park if we let you. You rotate between playing with different dolls and animal play sets and Lego. Nancy Drew has taken a back seat lately to Harry Potter, but you’ll come back. You always do.

img_0038When we moved to Dallas last year, you rode up front in the UHaul with me and we had so much fun. You talked and slept and made me play your favorite songs over and over again. We watched a lot of soccer this past year. We were waiting to watch the US-Germany game and you said, “Dad, I hope Germany’s whole team gets red cards.” It was so funny. I keep trying to get you pumped about the Women’s World Cup this year, but I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. But this summer…it’s gonna be on.

When I think of how many times you’ve moved in the seven years of your life, it breaks my heart. I don’t know what’s going to happen this year or next. We will eventually need to move again, but overall you seem like you’ve handled it all pretty well. Amelia, you’re a great kid and you’re so much fun to be with. I hope you had a great birthday.

A Letter to Our Oldest Daughter on Your 6th Birthday

img_0036Every year I am amazed by how much older you are and how much you’ve grown. You are 6. It’s been six years since you were born. Six years! One Saturday this year you woke up early, fed the dog and the cat, then let the dog out all by yourself. Then you poured me a cup of chocolate soymilk, and set out the plates for breakfast. It was just such a big kid thing to do. You were so proud of yourself.

This past year will probably be remembered for several big things. To start, this has been the year of Nancy Drew, Star Wars, and comic books. You’ve sort of become a superfan. The Nancy Drew was a complete accident. We’ve had 3 of those books on our bookshelf for years. I’m guessing they’re Laura’s but I don’t know when or how they showed up. One day we decided to read one, and that was it, you were hooked. You can’t get enough of Nancy, her two friends George and Bess, Nancy’s steady Ned Nickerson (from Emerson College), and Nancy’s dad, the well-known Forest Heights attorney. When we first started you hadn’t really started reading. But now you notice when we skip words, or you’ll ask about words on the page. My favorite part is the effect it’s having on your vocabulary. You like to tell me when something is suspicious and every now and then you’ll use some old-fashioned, slightly out of date language that only Nancy would use. I love it.

When you first watched Star Wars, you couldn’t wait for Return of the Jedi. The whole Darth Vader being Luke’s dad sort of blew your mind. It was all you wanted to talk about! The comic books started with My Little Pony. It’s fun. You’re really interested in a lot of the super hero comics, but we try to keep it fairly age appropriate. I have a feeling the first time you actually read a comic about Harley Quinn it’s going to be a bit of a rude awakening but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Another big part of this year is, unfortunately, I don’t get to see you enough. I’ve been working out of town four to three days out of every week and am usually home the rest of the week. Your mom and I decided this would be best and it absolutely is. Overall, it’s been great for all of us. But it hasn’t been easy. The thing is, you don’t remember the years I spent being a stay at home dad. You’re six now. You’re actually going to remember the year I spent working in a different city. It’ll be hazy. You may not know the full story. You’ll probably have weird memories and think, “was my dad there?” And that is what I’ve always wanted to avoid.

I try to convince myself you’re a tough kid and it’s no big deal, because I’m home on weekends and I get to take you to school and pick you up. But the fact of the matter is, you’re a sensitive kid. You spend a lot of time in your head and I don’t always know what you’re thinking.

One night as I was putting you to bed, you asked me, “Daddy, do you ever clinch your teeth so hard they hurt your jaw because you got mad at yourself for doing something wrong?”

“Yes, I’ve done that.”

You said, “yeah, I’ve done it, too.”

It broke my heart. I didn’t know what to say. I tried to explain that while I’ve done it, it’s not the best way to handle things. Sometimes I just want you to talk to me about what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling and just explain that you’re a kid and you should be worried about playing outside and what snack to have, but it doesn’t work. You think big things.

Early in the school year you talked to me for a long time about a kid at school and how you don’t like how she was treating you. Your mom and I like to let you solve your own problems, but I asked if you wanted your mom and I to talk to your teacher and see about keeping an eye on the situation. You said yes, so I talked to Laura and we planned to talk to your teacher. But when I picked you up at school the next day you had talked to your teacher and taken care of it. You were so proud of yourself. I’ll never forget seeing you beaming because you had resolved your own problem. It was the best outcome and I don’t think we could have planned it any better.

And last, but not least, your sister Violet was born this year. You are such a great big sister. You’ve got you concerns, we can tell. But for the most part, you’re kind and patient. It upsets you when she’s sad, and you genuinely want to help. I know your mom appreciates the help when I’m not home. You love the movie Frozen and the soundtrack. I like that it’s about 2 sisters who start and finish the movie as best friends. I’m glad you like it so much. You’re a great kid and you make me so proud every day.

Happy birthday.

A Letter to Our Daughter on Your 5th Birthday

img_0035I can’t believe you are five years old. I can’t believe how much has happened in the past 12 months.

Amelia, you are becoming a really sweet and thoughtful little girl. You constantly have more questions than we have answers and your constant energy is exhausting.

You started Pre-K this past August and so far you really seem to be enjoying it. Each day you come home and tell me a little something about your day and what you learned. It’s usually pretty brief and we have to ask for details. You usually tell us that you forgot what you learned because you napped during the day.

You are developing a pretty quick wit and funny little sense of humor. Just yesterday you had climbed into bed with us early in the morning. You were sleeping on the edge of the bed on your mom’s side. When Laura asked you if you had any room you stated matter of factly, “naw, Mom, I’m like a squirrel in a tree over here.” It was a perfect analogy. I’ve told that story more times than I can count in just the last day.

you get older and you and I get to spend a lot of time together, you’ve started confiding in me about certain things. Nothing big or outrageous, but you seem to like that we have secrets that we don’t tell your mom about.

favorite game to play is the one where I pretend not to know you. Every time we go to the grocery store or are in public together, you’ll say, “Dad, can we play that game where you don’t know me and tell me to find my parents.” It’s hilarious.

You’ve stopped saying a lot of the things I loved and we’ll miss them. At some point “candy cans” became “candy canes.” “‘Poon” became “spoon,” though I think that happened a while back. You’ve gotten pickier, if you can believe it. Some of the foods you used to love you hate now. But you’ve recently started eating salad. Tonight as I was cooking dinner you asked what we were having. I told you it was tacos, and asked if you would eat the beans and tacos. You said, “as long as salad’s involved, I’ll eat anything!” It was shocking. I’m pretty sure it’s the red wine vinegar; you’ve always liked that pickled vinegary flavor.

I made you a strawberry cake for your party, like you asked. Mom decorated it with snowpeople, but couldn’t fit the other people, the hockey sticks, and hockey balls you requested. It’s unclear at what point you became half Canadian or how you even heard about hockey, but I like that you’re taking an interest in sports…? This past fall you took your first ballet class. We’ll probably get you into another one this season, but your favorite thing to do these days is yoga. It’s sort of spendy, but you seem to like it so much we’ll keep taking you. The place near by has 2 classes each week just for kids and you love going. I’m glad you like it. I’m glad you’ve found something you really enjoy doing. The ballet class was tough. There was a kid in there who wasn’t very nice to you and it seemed to ruin the whole experience for you. I hope you go back though. I’m hoping you will try soccer this year, too. Also, you love singing. You are constantly singing. You may not know the words or the tune, but you will definitely sing. It reminds me of my grandfather. I’m glad you got that trait from him. I hope it sticks with you.

Amelia, every day you make me proud to be your dad. I absolutely love the time we spend together. I love when you spontaneously tell me you love me from across the room. I love when people compliment me on you, or your behavior. I love that you enjoy school and like your teachers. I love that you asked me today when you could watch Star Wars…

Happy birthday.


A Letter to Our Daughter on Your 4th Birthday

You are 4.

Four years old.

It’s been a long year and we’ve asked a lot of you. We asked you to leave your home and leave behind your best friend, your school, and your cousins to move halfway across the country. It wasn’t easy for any of us, but least of all you.

You’ve handled it really well and now that you’re 4 it’s really starting to show how much you’ve grown. You love your new preschool, though your mom and I have our doubts about it. Every day when I pick you up you ask if I brought you cookies. (That was a tradition I probably shouldn’t have started.)

Moving has had its up sides. You’ve gotten to spend time with your grandparents and great-grandparents. I’m not sure if you’ll remember this time as you get older, but you’ve developed a pretty sweet relationship with my mom’s mom. I don’t know how or why you’ve chosen her–maybe it’s because you’re named after her–but it’s fun to watch. A few weeks ago you decided you were going to spend the night with her and all but refused to leave. It took some cajoling and promising, but you finally agreed to leave on the condition you could spend the night with her soon.

For Christmas, Santa brought you a new turquoise (of course) bike. It’s got pedals and two wheels just like you wanted. It’s got training wheels, but I’m hoping to get you away from those soon. Right after Christmas, I re-taught your Tia Ang to ride a bike and you were so encouraging, I couldn’t tell if I was more proud of her for riding, or you for the support. I know she appreciated it, too.

You still don’t eat crust and it kills me. You refuse to try anything new. I’m sure you’ll grow out of it eventually, but right now you eat about 10 things all told. The other day you told your mom, “I believe in bikes. I believe in not eating animals, and I believe in cupcakes.”

I don’t think I could’ve said it better myself.

Happy birthday, sweetheart.

A Letter to Our Daughter on Your 3rd Birthday

img_0032You were supposed to be born around February 2nd. So January 25th started just like any other day, except that your mom and I slept incredibly well. For the last few weeks of her pregnancy your mom had not slept well. She was uncomfortable and worried about having you. When we woke up that Friday morning we had breakfast together and talked about how we’d both slept deeply and soundly. Your mom felt great. I left for work before 7am, and your mom went back to bed.

I was working at the public defender’s office then, and was on my way to court at 9am when your mom called to say her water broke. Well, she thought it had broken, but wasn’t sure. I passed off my client files and caught the first bus home. I called Debbie, one of our midwives, and told her what happened. She asked a few questions, most of which I didn’t have answers for then we hung up so she called your mom.

I got home and we waited for Debbie.

When Debbie showed up she took a few tests. She explained to your mom the difference between cramps and contractions and told us to be patient because some mothers have gone as long as 3 or 4 days before the birth. She also said we should go to the birthing center when there’s a consistent pattern of intense contractions for at least an hour.

Your Auntie Caryn came over and the three of us took Porter for a walk together. Your mom had to go pretty slow, and take breaks, but we got home about 1:00pm.

Auntie left and when your mom and I got home she got into the bath. Your mom got out of the bath and said, “it’s time to go.”

We grabbed our stuff and hopped into your mom’s old Bronco. It was an awesome, but old truck and it broke. We couldn’t drive to the birthing center. I had to call a cab to pick us up. Your mom was having contractions pretty frequently and wouldn’t let me talk to or touch her. She wanted absolute quiet.

By the time the cab company showed up, and we were finally on our way it was almost 2:00pm.

When we got to the birthing center there was a couple leaving and theyimg_0031 wished us luck. We got to our room and your mom got into the birthing tub pretty quickly. She still didn’t want anyone talking to her or touching her. She was starting to make more and more noise as labor progressed. The midwives were passing notes to each other and whispering to me about what would be happening next. And then your little head started coming out. At first, your head just started peeking out, but then you came right out all at once. You were so excited to be born, you came right out. It was 3:19pm.

You started crying almost as soon as you came out of the water. The whole time your mom was pregnant we didn’t know if you were going to be born a boy or a girl. After you were born your mommy sat in the tub holding you for a few seconds before finally saying, “I have to find out what you are!”

Everything about that day was beautiful. The sun was shining and your mom was fearless. She never doubted her body’s ability to give birth to you and didn’t need anyone’s help. It was a beautiful sight to see, and holding the two of you afterward was the most amazing feeling.

And now you’re 3 years old.

You’re funny, incredibly sweet, and sometimes a little bratty. Last night at dinner you thanked me for making a yummy dinner then told me you loved me when I carried you to bed. You’re picky about what you eat, but like tonight ate the tofu and quinoa like a big kid. You’re excited about cake for your birthday party and love painting. You also promised to start eating the crust on your bread now that you’re three. Your favorite color is turquoise and you love Toy Story 3.

Happy birthday, Mija!