To Dhyan: Year 9

Dear Dhyan,

Well the first thing you’ll notice about this letter, in some future date when you read these, is that it comes well after your birthday. I don’t have a lot of good excuses. There was a lot of busyness and sickness around your birthday and it’s taken me awhile just to get my thoughts flowing again. So I apologize.

Also I did use a photo in the header that has you looked none to pleased to have your photo taken. I hope you will see it one day and regret your face that tells your mother. “Really, mommy. Another photo?”

IMG_20221118_190339For some reason I find myself feeling differently as I write this year’s letter. I know you are only 9 and just a child, there is something more grown up about you suddenly that I feel like I am writing a letter to a young adult as opposed to a kid. You’ve grown in height and maturity so much it seems that I guess I feel like I am already started to glimpse the man you will become. Of course, it could be just because I don’t feel like I can carry you anymore. But perhaps that’s just as much a function of me getting older as you!

IMG_20220616_073522Maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising though. When I was 9 I went to India and I felt like that trip had a profound impact on me. I am not sure what my parents would say about how I changed, but I do feel like your trip to London this summer helped you grow up in a way that only travel can do. Of course, London isn’t some vastly different place, but nevertheless I think there is something about just seeing the different ways cultures can be, different ways cities can be built, different systems for getting around. All those things sometimes act like learning another language. They give us a different mental grammar. And you were so wonderful in London walking around and taking in the sights. Fearless on the tube, leading the way. I was so very proud of you. Traveling is something this family likes to do and I feel like you’ve gotten bitten by the travel bug a bit and will continue to enjoy traveling adventures and I find myself even more excited to take you places.

IMG_20220423_175043I also shouldn’t be surprised that you always impress me with your maturity. You have a cool confidence about you. And it shows that you have growing awareness of your own thoughts and feelings. You still have trouble expressing your feelings especially when you’re feeling bad about something. It almost makes me cry when I see how sensitive you are. But it is the source of your empathy and kindness, and it always makes me so proud when I see how understanding and kind you are. What I’m learning as a dad is that being vulnerable is a hard thing. I thought perhaps I could get you there faster because I am someone who is expressive and comfortable in my own skin, but I think that it’s a skill that just takes time. And in the end, you are just 9. You are already far ahead of where I was at the age. You are sensitive like me, and I know it can feel overwhelming at times. Expressing it does make a big difference, but I have every confidence that when you feel the need to take that next step really explore your feelings you will get there. Maybe I underestimate how long it takes to just observe our emotions before we really understand how to express them.

IMG_20220618_093638You also continue to impress me with your desire to read and learn. This, too, can really change a person. You are reading and several levels about your grade level and it also reminds me how much language transforms us. It seems your growth has really evolved as you’ve read more and more with more complex plots and vocabulary.

That being said, the one area that we need to get better at is being able to have serious talks with you. Up until now I think I’ve been just content to let you unfold without trying to guide you. You are at the age where you can pretty much look up anything you want on the internet and that makes things a bit scary. So we need to talk to you about the things you might find. And really this is the beginning of a real loss of innocence. We have to tell you that people might try to manipulate you. That people aren’t always kind. That you may find disturbing images. And it’s so hard to have a conversation with you about these things sometimes, because you tend to sort of shutdown. And I think that’s why it’s also been difficult to write this letter because I feel like I should be talking to you instead of about you. And I often don’t know how to talk to you, because IMG_20221103_172838I’m afraid of you shutting down. Sometimes I don’t even know if you’re listening. Maybe it’s because it’s hard for you to process these things because you’re so sensitive. Maybe also you feel like we are having these talks with you because we’re accusing you of doing something wrong. I think realizing some truths about the world will be hard for you initially, but I know you’ll be able to handle it. You just have a very big heart and it can be overwhelming sometimes, but you will be stronger after you wrestle with these things internally. But I just want you to know that I’m going to keep trying. And it’s not so much that I want to tell you things, but I also really just want to hear what you have to say. What you’re thinking. How you’re feeling.

I feel really caught between wanting you to be older and more sure, and preserving that child-like sweetness. And I feel, that in some way, this is where you are too. You also see yourself changing and wishing you could still be a child. Maybe that’s why you’ve been less patient with your little brother. Don’t get me wrong, you are still doing well, but I imagine it’s hard having to be the more mature one, while your little brother gets to be more of a kid. Little siblings come along and take that freedom away. And I think sometimes as a parent I too often am expecting more maturity than you are capable of. Well I think it’s always good to remind you to be good to your brother, I am sorry if sometimes I get mad when really you are just being an 8 year old.

IMG_20230122_130513Who am I this year? Well I guess we old people don’t change as much. I still feel like I’m still waiting for some important change, some test, some awakening. I don’t know. Maybe it’s that I still feel uneasy about the future. I know myself, but I don’t know what kind of world you will face. And even though your character matters most, I guess I can’t help but wish for a world where you can flourish. Maybe I just really need to work on making sure I stay in the moment. But overall I feel good and I’m excited to take you and Allie to Europe this summer. I want you to know more of the world and enjoy travel like I do. We have so many more places to go!

I am sorry this letter is so late. I’ll do better next year. I shall leave you with a poem, my growing up child. Happy Birthday!

when I see your face
my heart is a shield
a blanket

a cocoon

as if you could become
the man
you were meant to be
ensconced in my love

for why would I want
any harm
come to you

but harm happens
and you must learn
to stand

and I must bear
the heartbreak
of your falls

To Allie: Year 4

Dear Allie,

IMG_20220110_112221_2I have never been more unsure about what to say in a letter to one of you than I am about this one. Right now, I’m listening to you do a silly voice. You’re playing with your brother. And all I can think is just how lively you are. Not just rambunctious, though you are (however, I’ve met super rambunctious children, which was frightening), but just always talking. Loud. Rambling. Narrating everything. You even narrated your own running “I’m running!”. You are a force. I really don’t know how to describe you.

Our main form of interaction is either, you attacking me, you dragging me and calling me your pet, telling me I smell like “chicken tuney fish” or asking me if I like fish poop. Your brother has been a bit of a negative influence, but since he doesn’t abuse in quite so systematic a way, I have to think that you are already trying to challenge me in some competitive son-father way.

IMG_20211221_124913We still play games we’ve been playing since prior to your 3rd birthday. For instance, you still want your cookie and vitamins in the morning. Before it had to be a bowl, and now you’re more open to the plate option. But I still, as I’m serving it, or when you ask for it, make a claim that it’s “actually for me”. And you respond back playfully “It’s for me!!!”. But sometimes you get worried I will take it. I have never taken the cookie or vitamin in two years, and now I find it fascinating, as a science experiment, to see when you’ll glue it together that daddy is just kidding. And one day this ritual will end, and I will be pretty sad about it.

We also still play a game that quite frankly I thought you would have outgrown by now. I always used to say “Where’s Allie?” when I would fake not being able to find you. Sometimes I would look straight ahead and not look down when you were in front of me. Sometimes you were behind me and I would be facing away from you, looking in that direction. You’d giggle mercilessly. You still do, but now you’re hanging on to my pockets and so I shuffle around, and as I turn my body you turn with me while. My back pockets being looser and baggier is not good for holding on to my wallet, nor can it help the look of an ever-expanding butt. It is obvious in every way possible that you are behind me and yet sometimes I think you actually believe I don’t know where you are. I suppose there is just the possibility that you are very silly. And you are quite silly. I love it though. It makes me happy to hear you giggle.

I am so in love you, Allie. You are just a wonderful child, and so beautiful. Both you and your brother take my breath away when I see your faces. Don’t get me wrong, you’re still little and you definitely make some solid messes. Also, you will not sit down at the dinner table and eat your dinner at dinner time, but only in the 5 minutes before bedtime. In addition, currently, you are scared of flies. Summer is coming Allie, there will be a lot of flies. You just have to get used to flies. This could end up being a very longer, but we’ll get through it. But overall, I couldn’t be happier about who you are. You are an amazing little boy.

20210920_183438As far as who I am right now, at this point of my life, I can only say, I think I’ve been better. Life feels a lot like stress management. What can I do to stay sane? I’ve lost some fight during the pandemic. I think part of it is a lack of togetherness. It feels more alone and that there is a tide carrying us along and we are helpless to do anything about it. It feels very uncertain that the world will be moving in a better direction when you reach adulthood. I am grateful the pandemic came when you were this age, just because I knew it wasn’t going to interrupt your development as you would just be home with mommy and daddy more and just see it as more fun. And it has been. You are fun child. And in the end, I have a lot of love in my life, and have a lot to be grateful for. I am very grateful to you. For your light brown, golden tipped curls. For your laugh. For your smile. Your innocence rejuvenates me. You are kind and thoughtful. So gentle with the cats. You could be a little less vicious with your father though. Sometimes you could just run to me and hug me excitedly. We’ll work on it. Until then I will enjoy everything you do because your ridiculously cute whatever you’re doing.

IMG_20210519_074756_812I will live
for your moments
of pure and unadulterated joy
even as my hearing fades
like Beethoven
I shall hold the music in my mind
and know with precision
what happiness sounds like
& with my pen
I write

every moment
you are in my arms

every moment
you are in my arms

Happy birthday Allie. As much as I sometimes which I could preserve you in your perfection, I also can’t wait to see what more you have in store for me as you grow. I love you!

Love,
Daddy

To Dhyan: Year 8

Dear Dhyan,

Well another year has passed during a pandemic. But hopefully things are starting to return to normal. As a father you hope that your children don’t have to live under such restricted times, but really there is still much worse situations. You have handled it wonderfully though. Perhaps, in some ways it’s good that this happening now. Traveling will hopefully become easier in the next couple of years. There are so many places we want to take you, and I think being a little older will help you appreciate and remember it better.

As I write this letter you are playing with your brother. I have to say the sounds of you two playing are some of my favorite. Not only because it gives us parents a break, but because I know how much your brother is benefitting from playing with you. You are so patient and kind with him, even though I know he can be difficult sometimes. And funnily enough you are proving these very words as I type. It’s also wonderful the impact Allie has had on you. You always seemed to play without a lot of imagination, but this year is the year I’ve really seen your imagination take off, and I think this has a lot to do with the impact of your brother and his imagination. Perhaps you just needed another kid to feel like it was okay to pretend. Your mother and I can be pretty pragmatic, practical, and scientific. With us being older parents too, maybe we didn’t do a good job of fostering your imagination. But you and Allie play so beautifully together. You even finally started naming your stuffed animals this year. You always used to just call them just by the kinds of animal they were. It’s always okay to lose yourself in a pretend world for purposes of play. I am glad you are doing that more.

As always, I want to help you understand where I am in my life too. It’s been a challenging year for many reasons. My work still lies in some uncertainty for the next few years. I hope I will find a place. I’ll admit that I am pretty fortunate to have the job I have. Maybe it can’t last, but I am going to try. The main reason being is the extra time it allows me to spend with you and Allie. I know it’s a bit selfish, but really I wish more people were able to spend more time with their children as I can. I’ve never been a terribly ambitious person, and right now I feel even less so providing we can take care of you and your brother comfortably. I want this time of my life to be a celebration of raising my children. It is ultimately only for a short time, and I want to be around for it.

It’s hard watching you grow up sometimes. I can’t help thinking about the last time I carried you, or being able to swing you around. Each year there is a little less of you that needs me. But this year my mind has been thinking about needing to have talks with you. Talking to you about people touching you without your consent. Talking to you about violent or sexual content you might see on the internet. Making you more aware of the darker side of the world. Still seeing beauty in the world despite all the bad shit that happens in it, is often no easy task. I believe you will find a way, but the thought of you contemplating these things, imagining these things for the first time, for some reason makes me sad. In the end, if we are to improve the world for all people, we have to be aware of their suffering. It is not only inevitable for you to learn, it’s also important. Still, it’s like disturbing the perfect stillness of a glass lake surface. It’s no easy task. Here is a poem, I wrote about that feeling.

There is a documentary, that I didn’t watch, but claims to essentially support the idea that the person someone is at 7 is how they are going to be as an adult. I am not sure I completely buy it, but when I look at you, I certainly hope that’s true. So I thought in this letter, I would describe the kind of man you will be based on who you were this year. First and foremost you are going to be kind. You don’t want to hurt others, you are so thoughtful, sweet, and loving. You are independent and responsible. You have a high emotional intelligence and a high general intelligence. You are also hard on yourself. You can feel a lot of anxiety when you make mistakes. You shy away from hard conversations and don’t like criticism. We have much in common. You don’t like a lot of the hard work it takes to become good at something. None us our perfect. I am still trying to get better at these things, and so we will continue to grow together. I know you will bring a lot of light to others as you do for your family. The most important thing to me, is your kindness, and that you clearly want to become a better person. And so I have no worries about the man you will become, I just hope it doesn’t happen too soon.

I have to say my favorite memory from this year was from our trip to the beach when your mother hid a “treasure box” and made you believe she found a map in the bottle. You seemed to be a little doubtful at the reality of the whole thing, but we seemed to convince you and you were so excited at finding real pirate treasure. I loved following you around and watching you as searched for it. I hope you don’t read this letter too soon, because I want you to still believe it was real for a while longer. In general you are quite observant so I am surprised we were able to pull it off. I love watching you get really into something. I know someday you are going to find your passion and you are going to be brilliant at it.

To Allie: Year 3

Dear Allie,

I remember feeling similarly after the completion of your brother’s 2nd year. So stark are the changes from the beginning to the end of this year it’s hard to know where to begin. So let me start by saying that you are just a force. You have an infectious laugh, you talk non-stop and you narrate everything that’s happening. You are so, so, so, silly. You sing songs, sometimes in silly voices. I love your silly voices. You have a terrific imagination and invent scenarios when you play with your toys. I think you’ve even helped unlock your older brother’s imagination more. You know how to make jokes already and do so frequently. Have I mentioned how silly you are? You are also a much more willful boy than your brother. Challenging authority, contrarian, sometimes naughty for the hell of it. A little bit conniving. You are rambunctious and like to charge at your father to give him head butts. Your height is rather unfortunate right now, and there is much guarding of sensitive areas as you run with reckless abandon! I love it all. It’s amazing how with your last child, it becomes all too clear that these beautiful moments are so temporary.

The way I see myself in you
And even the way
I sometimes don’t

I’d like to believe
that I was like you
when I was your age

Can you teach me that giggle?
Would you tell me how
to make that silly voice?
Will you show me how
to run headlong into things
laughing all the way
hair bobbing up and down

I hope
I was like you
I hope all children
get to laugh like that
and help us adults grow

into you

Your personality is shining through more and more each day. I am sure it’s too early to know exactly the kind of person you are, this warm and gregarious person is blossoming and it’s just so wonderful to see.

The coolest thing about you, which is maybe unfair since you only started doing it a few weeks ago (and in general makes these letters very biased to what I can actually remember over the course of the year) is the way you have started commenting on the facial expressions and body language of characters in storybooks. It’s so cool that you are interpreting expressions and even though you aren’t really listening to the story so you get the intent of the facial expression wrong sometimes, I always understand your thought process and I love that this is what you are paying attention to.

As to who I am right now, the truth is, I just feel like I’m in a holding pattern. Will I still be a meteorology professor next year? Am I on the brink of some great enlightenment, or is this just all there is? Are things going to get worse? I feel like life is on pause somehow. That I’m waiting for something and I don’t know what it is. There’s a tension in the air. Trump is no longer president. It’s something, but still so much uncertainty lies ahead. It crippled me in January and for the first time in a long time, I felt empty of strength and it scared me. My love for you, your brother and your mother is the surety in my life and I am grateful for it every day.

It’s been a long year since your last birthday. It’s been approximately a year since the Coronavirus pandemic hit. When I think about how different this past year was supposed to be, the one bright point is that I have gotten to spend a lot more time with you than I probably would have, if life was ‘normal’. If there is any good to come out of this pandemic it’s to redefine normal. And while I haven’t gotten to take you to as many places as your brother when he was your age, I know, that for you, just being able to spend more time with your family has been a blessing. With your brother being at home a lot more I have also seen your bond with him grow immensely, and it’s so beautiful to see. Dhyan waited a long time for you both to sleep in the same room together, and now you sleep with each other and it’s so adorable. So while you may not have gotten the variety of life experiences, you have experienced no shortage of love.

That being said, I do long to take you places and see your face light up with excitement. While we slowly unroll from the pandemic, I know those days lie ahead and that the pandemic won’t even be a memory for you. There is so much I want you to see. There are snowcapped mountains, there are restless salty waves, there are places far far away to fly to. So much more awaits us.

I love you my Allie. Happy Birthday!

To Dhyan: Year 7

Dear Dhyan,

Any letters in 2020 should probably be appropriate to the year. It has not been a great one. The world however is complex and the sum of events, even if on the darker side, will have bright moments in it. Watching you and your brother grow certainly has been the brightness of this year. How much you remember from this year, I don’t know, but in 2020 a novel virus called COVID-19 came into the public, killing many and disrupting lives. It has kept a social species largely away from each other and this has been challenging for all of us. Such things used to be commonplace in our world, but things have improved so much that in many countries people refused to believe that it was something to take seriously. It is. Needless to say your first year of school was cut short and you were forced to do much of your schoolwork at home. Similarly, for your first half of grade one. No vacations, no museums, no art classes, and little interaction with friends. I am sorry for this. I can tell what a social person you want to be now, and you were just starting to experience that and it all went away. We adults see time differently. Our larger sense tells us that this year will be but a blip in your lifetime and few memories will remain. In the smaller sense time feels excruciatingly long that we can’t give you all the experience a 6 year old gets. In the balance of things, I’m not worried.

There was a documentary that shows the results of testing the common notion, that the person someone is going to become occurs at the age of 7. While changes can be stark in children, I find it hard to believe you will grow up to be anything other than an amazing person. It is only in this past year that it has really struck me how kind and nurturing you are, and so patient with your brother and it has made me reflect on how I am as a parent. If I can’t be as kind, nurturing, and patient as you, then it is you who I must look to you as my source for inspiration. I believe that when someone brings you joy, you have something to learn from them. You have brought me joy since the moment I met you and I want you to know that I will always look to you to teach me, no matter your age. I am learning new lessons from you all the time just by the very nature of who you are. And you are so beautiful Dhyan I just love looking at you. I wrote this poem about it:

Sometimes I’m afraid
I stare too long
at your face

Each curve and contour
my eyes follow and trace

I look away
efface

Features burned
I cannot erase

As I hold you
in father’s embrace
I know I can never
replace

A beauty so perfect
everyday
teaches me
the meaning of grace

And you’re smart. Oh so smart. You are reading books in the first grade that I couldn’t read until the 2nd and 3rd grade, and I had a pretty good education in Canada! I hope that I keep being the support you need to make sure you are challenged intellectually. I’m still not sure what you are going to be, but you do seem to have a knack for spatial thinking and design. I like watching how your mind works. No matter how smart you turn out, it is your kindness that I will always be the most proud of.

This year’s pandemic has had some positives because it has caused us to go outside more. We developed a bit of a ritual which is on hiatus for the cooler winter weather and that’s to go on a hike at a nearby park once a week. It usually involves a meal and a treat or two. A fair amount of stops along the way. But it’s a wonderful time to spend with you. We’ve even got you to write a few poems with me. The autumn was beautiful this year and each week we got to see the colors change and watch it together. It is a glorious memory. At one point, we even tried to catch falling leaves:

Standing in a rain of leaves
you look up
in wonder
watching one fall
circle
sweeping
towards you
your body starts
to run
to twirl
and I watch you
like glue
in love
and then I watch the rain
and want to play too
and we are both laughing
and cheering in triumph

it’s happiness

I have started writing a lot of poetry this year. I joined the writing community on Twitter and it’s been wonderful for me to stay sane in what has been a difficult year. The pandemic has been stressful certainly, but really it’s more than that. You are going to grow in a country that is failing its people. The power structures have divided us, and they have many people supporting the very power structures that keep them from prosperity. Trump’s presidency is coming to an end and it can’t come soon enough. There is literally no person who is so morally bankrupt and inept and put in a position of power than that man. But this country was in trouble long before. Education is becoming increasingly devalued and this has put a lot of stress at my job as well. Infrastructure collapses all around. The actual positive things that made this country great are forgotten. It is bitter irony that a person who has made the situation in this country so much worse ran on the slogan of Make America Great Again. Whatever his definition of great, it isn’t that great. So that has been what I’m dealing with this past year, and so I just had a moment where I wrote something good on Twitter, and somebody noticed and it lit a flame. I write, because I need to remember that there is beauty everywhere. And that you can have a positive community of people who get along and appreciate beautiful things too. Who see the beauty of humanity and even the ugliness too. But it’s art. It tells stories, teaches lessons, confronts harsh truths but in a delicate way. Sometimes the world seems mad enough that you begin to wonder whether you are sane or not. Writing has helped remind me that I’m sane. Things may get tougher, but remembering the value of human creativity and feeling my own creativity come back gives me the strength of conviction that we will get through this together as a family. So that’s where my head is now.

I am sorry you will have no birthday party this year. But we will have happiness, because there is love. Happy birthday Dhyan. Thank you for making my life more beautiful.

The Daddy Who Went Up The Mountain

Prologue

I woke up this morning with a great deal of excitement. Two days ago we got about 7” of snow and yesterday, while at a nearby park, I spotted an excellent place with a slope that was steep enough to provide a bit of speed for my two children (almost 7, and 2.75 years old) while I also not being ridiculous big for a hike upwards to the top. It was perhaps about 60 ft. It was perfect for sledding.

Our Story

Sledding is a source of many positive memories for me growing up. It was a popular activity in Edmonton where I grew up and it was a common wintertime activity especially since I wasn’t much of a skater. I was going to give my kids the most exciting time of their life.  Oh yes, I will be “fun daddy” as I am sometimes called by the toddler.

I began the arduous task of collecting clothes and getting them dressed. After what can only be described as 3 days later, we were ready to go. When we got to the park, Allie (the toddler) was excited to hold one of the sleds. It was light and so I let him, but it was clear that there was no way he was going to go anywhere fast if left to walk on his own. The half foot snow amounts to 17% of his height and it’s slow going with him even on a sidewalk. This wasn’t going to be easy. So I decided that it might make it easier to trudge a path up there and if we just keep using the same path eventually he might be excited enough to make the trek himself. So I carried him up the first time. We had 3 different sleds. The traditional wooden toboggan. Not sure what it’s called in the U.S. so feel free to look that word up! One sort of surfboard like thing with a plastic bottom and the plastic disc sled.  The snow was completely untouched and the first two went nowhere. On the disc, both Dhyan (my eldest) and I went nowhere also, but Allie slid down slowly.  But it made a track and compressed some of the snow. After a few more times of me carrying Allie up and trying it again we had a viable track, and my older son was able to go down also.

It all sounds good, but my 46 year old body was already feeling it. I was thinking this hill isn’t nearly as big as the one I went on as a kid. Of course the last time I went sledding I was a teen in my prime able to walk up any hill myself. Also the hill didn’t have this much freshly fallen snow to trudge through.  In Canada so many kids go sledding that whenever I would go, it was already a smooth packed surface to easily sail down, and one didn’t have to wade through deep snow to get up to the top.  Many people had already taken the path up. As I continued to lug my toddler back up and then go back down for the sled I could tell I was sweating. Sweat dripped down my face, and inside my winter jacket I could tell I was getting soaked. I was worried about getting chilled so I knew I had to keep exerting energy. No matter how well traveled the path was getting, Allie could not climb on his own. I began to feel like Sisyphus, the boulder was my toddler. And every time I’d get him to the top I would watch him go down again and then go and retrieve him.

Eventually the kids soaked from snow and daddy soaked from sweat I packed them into the car. I remembered that the difference between my toddler and the boulder is that I am sure the boulder, never yelled excitedly as it rolled down. Poor Sisyphus might have even enjoyed his torment if he felt the boulder was having a good time. I asked Dhyan as we drove back if he had a good time and he said yet.  I felt very satisfied. The feeling was short-lived. “Daddy can we do it again tomorrow?”

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Epilogue

As I sit here in my chair. My back, very angry a me right now, I think to myself that I should have known my toddler wouldn’t be able to go up that hill. Still it was worth it. Nevertheless I’d like to thank my parents because while they were certainly younger than I was when they took me up hills, I’m sure it was no easy task and I thank them. Let’s hope I heal in time for round 2 tomorrow. Unlike life in Edmonton, snow doesn’t stick around here in southwest Pennsylvania for very long so we have to take advantage of good snow while it’s here.

I need a hot tub.

in my shoes

You claim my shoes

It wasn’t so long ago
excitement and shock
the look on your face
when you learned to talk

You will stumble
fall in those boats
while your ambition
carelessly floats

Before you go far
You must know laces
Crisses and crosses
Loops and the chases

You’re going to wander
so learn about soles
they gotta be comfy
always do a test stroll

then you need to know
when to walk when to run
when to take them out dancing
shoes are meant to be fun

You claim my shoes
and all I have
will be yours
in time
but
I dream
I rue
happy
and
trying
not
to
think
about
the day
you fill
my shoes

To Allie: Year 2

Dear Allie,

The changes that life brings when you have a second child are subtle.  The main difference is you get a lot busier and time seems to fly.  It’s hard to believe that you are 2 already.  The baby in you is a shadow, and you are well on your way to a little boy.

For whatever reason, I think I believe that in many ways you’d be a lot like your brother, because nurture would be more powerful than nature, despite other parents telling me what surprises await.  They were not wrong.  Although you share your brother’s happy disposition, you are so very different.  While your personality is still emerging from you at this age, I can feel myself falling love with a boy who has so many special and unique qualities. The first thing I love about you is how much you already love me!  I’m not going to pretend you don’t love mommy more but compared to Dhyan who pretty much went into hysterics if mommy wasn’t near by the fact that you run up to me yelling “Daddy!” and give me hugs is amazing.  The fact that you let me put you to bed is amazing.  You are just so happy when both of us around.  Sometimes you run back and forth between he both of us going “Daddy!”, “Mama!”, “Daddy!”, “Mama!”  You are a sweet and loving child.

You’ve spent a lot of time on my lap this past year.  I know it’s not the most productive thing, but at the end of day at work, you would sit on my lap and watch music videos or nursery rhyme song cartoons.  It started off with music videos this kept you entertained for about 9 months, but suddenly you transitioned to more animated stuff.  In the last month or month and half I noticed that you started to become scared of some of the cartoons where someone is falling or perhaps in danger of falling.  There is a Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme video that sends you into hysterics whenever it comes on. You cry, “Bam! Bam!” which is your word for falling down and start crying and I have to fast forward over it. You are none too fond of monkeys jumping and falling off the bed either and cover your eyes with your hands.

You have two very funny things that you do that just warms my heart.  Even though you’ve gone long past the object permanence stage, you seem to think that you disappear when you cover your eyes.  Frequently you will play a sort of peekaboo with us.  We could be chasing you and then you’ll cover your eyes as if it somehow makes you disappear.  It’s so funny.  We then proceed to pretend we can see you and then suddenly you’ll remove your hands and laugh delightedly. The other bit of silliness is how you’ll pretend everything is a hat.  From fruit, to books, to balloons.  Your word for hate is wowwy. I have no idea where you got the idea that this was the word for hat, but that’s what you’ve been calling it for months now!

In general, your language skills are a bit bizarre.  While you speak several recognizable words in English and Polish, and started speaking well before Dhyan, many of your words, while consistently used, do not resemble the actual word in Polish or English.  You also seem to have entire conversations at times in gibberish and we can’t tell what you’re saying at all.  All I can say is that I’m sorry and that I’m sure it was all very interesting and important. The sounds of your voice, whether I understand you or not is like music to my ears.

You are also much more of a naughty boy than your brother was.  You have the best of mischievous grins.  One that I secretly appreciate, even though I must outwardly scold.  Speaking of which I’ve never seen a human more unphased by a scolding.  There are times when I’ve yelled and given you the scariest of faces that would have sent fear into the little eyes of your brother and made him stop whatever he was doing.  Your reaction is to look at us deadpan at best, amused at worst until we are finished and then wait until we look away to continue what it is that you were doing! Honestly I was a bit worried for a moment? Is this the reaction of one with a criminal mind? Someone who is remorseless of their wrong doing?  Alas you are far to sweet to be such a person. You give hugs when someone is crying, and you give love to us and the kitties. You get worried about Humpty Dumpty falling. You’re just a little anti-authoritarian, I can’t really be upset about that.  And I also think your reaction goes along with the fact that you are just a more laid back kind of personality.  While happy like your brother, you have a laugh that is much more about just having fun and have no need to control the situation. You are content to just watch things happen and keep on laughing. In this way you are very much like me.

There is a quiet intelligence about you that I love to see. You figure things out quickly, and you love looking up at the sky just like I do.  In this way I also feel close to you. Though it may to early to really gauge what passions will drive you, your mother is a geologist and looks down like your brother, you and I, I think we’ll be looking at the sky together. I guess we’ll see, but I can’t wait to see more of fills you with wonder.

As always, these letters are not only meant to be about my views of you are me as a parent, but also to let you know how I am at this stage of my life.  Personal reflections are difficult right now, because this letter comes are a time where we are experiencing a unique moment in human history.  Right now a virus called COVID-19 or the Corona virus is moving throughout the world population.  It is a new virus and humans do not have an immunity to it. The country of your birth is being hit rather hard right now and the leader of this country could not be worse for this moment in time, although it is easily arguable that we should never have such a leader at any moment in time.  Beyond that, on average the world is not prepared. These things are part of nature, but modern medicine has kept up with such viruses until now.  We are practicing something called social distancing, quarantining ourselves, and many businesses are close to limit how close we come in contact with other people. This is causing a lot of economic hardship for many as well.  There will be a great deal of death, especially to those who are old, and it will take time to recover as the global economy has slowed down significantly.  We do this so that hospitals will not be overwhelmed with patients and we can save more people. We do this because we value human life above all other things.  Still there is a great deal of fear, anxiety and men who crave power, and so there is discord in the better angels of our nature.  I hope the discord is not so great that we can come out of this better than we might and that we learn the right lessons.  Your 82 year old grandfather is with us right now and cannot go back to Poland as many countries have closed their borders to slow the spread of the virus and thus are not allowing many flights in and out.  I believe he is safe with us, but if something were to happen, I want you to know that he came to help us take care of you while we were working and that he takes great care of you and loves you very much.  I hope you will see him next year.

But for a 2 year old boy all you see is mommy and daddy get to be home with you more often and there is a great deal of joy. While at times you might sense our anxiety, this is a happy time for you and we are glad also to have more moments with you and watch you grow. Before I go, a couple of things.  First, your brother really wants to love you and you very often push him away out of jealousy.  This is normal, but I just wanted to know that he loves you so much and desperately wants to be close to you. Second, I want to ask one small favor of you. Could you please sleep through the night?  That would be wonderful.

Happy Birthday Allie!

All my love,
Daddy

To Dhyan: Year 6

Dear Dhyan,

Each year I think the thoughts will flow easier, but I find myself this year less able to encapsulate what this year has been like. You seem to have changed immensely and yet it was hardly surprising I suppose in retrospect.  You started pre-school at the beginning of the year, did that for 3 months, then went to Poland with your grandfather, and was there 3 weeks with just your grandparents, before your mom and Allie joined you for another 3 weeks.  You a blissful summer under the sun, and then began school and I’ve never seen you shine so brightly.  I know being able to be around and play with other kids more consistently has been enjoyable for you.  I am sure there are going to be hiccups navigating the social waters, but I have no doubt you’ll find your way so long as you remain kind.

It’s been a very big year for you.  It’s weird to think how you can be afraid to go by yourself upstairs to your room, but you have no problem going across a big ocean far away from your parents.  The latter taking far more bravery than the former.  It’s interesting the things we are frightened of.  Most of it largely unreasonable.  I missed you terribly being without you for 6 weeks, but I also couldn’t be more proud.  I am glad you got to really experience your mom’s home country and got to speak the language in a place where everybody speaks it.  You made friends with Polish children, you ordered things in Polish.  It’s wonderful!

And now, in just one semester of kindergarten you’re reading and writing skills have improved dramatically.  I am greatly enjoying watching the world open up to you.  What used to be some random assort of symbols, you recognize now as letters and words, and it’s wonderful to see those eyes widen with recognition and excitement that you are reading.  We had our first parent/teacher interview and your teacher had nothing but wonderful things to say about you.  She did mention that you do get a little bit silly, especially when there is someone to goof around with. I was just happy that you’re the same kid at school that we see at home.

What was also nice this year is that I did get to spend much more time with you.  While you still prefer your mommy, I can tell that you look forward to our time together and I enjoy your company so much.  I love the questions you ask, and the way you look at the world.  You are such a kind and fair boy.  It is the one greatest wish for my children, and it feels like you are already there.  Now I just have to figure out how to keep you on that path.

Now here is my one problem with you.  Why can’t you just sit down and eat a meal?  I don’t understand why you are out of your seat more than in it while we’re eating.  I don’t know why you always have to go to the bathroom during meal.  I don’t understand how it can take an hour to eat.  Everything else Is easy with you until the parents vs. Dhyan meal times.  I sense this is distressing to both us.  Perhaps that’s why battles wear on because we don’t know how to communicate with each other properly.  That being said, you will find a whole exciting world awaits you after meal time when you don’t use all your free time eating.

But if that’s the worst of it, I think it would be manageable.  With all the growth you’ve had over the past year, I start to see you more clearly in your future and I worry about what security I can provide you in your life. My job has become less stable, this country grows ever more divided and corrupt, that the world seems more inclined to lean towards authoritarians and xenophobes, and the harm we are causing our planet continues as too much political capital in the countries that could do the most, pretends that it’s not even happening.  I feel like I should be preparing you for a harsh reality, but those joyful moment with you give me strength each day. And in the end maybe that is what’s most important.  Without enough joyful moments, maybe it’s not possible to know what is worth fighting for.  In any world where people are needed to make things better, they are going to be bright, creative, kind, and vigilant.  We need good people to look up to. I hope I can raise you to be someone who has qualities that makes people feel better when they are around you.

The quality that continues to emerge most strongly in you, is your creative ability.  Especially in terms of design.  Your mother has this quality in her abundance, but it was never my forte.  It makes me feel sometimes I don’t know how to guide you.  It makes me worry that there is some greatness I you that I don’t know how to make sure rises to the surface.  But I guess that’s why there are two of us raising you, and maybe what’s really the most important is just making sure you feel completely loved.  I hope that a large part of you becoming who you are meant to be is about giving you that loving environment that makes you feel free to be that person.  That being said, I love that you love math and that is one area that I am enjoying exploring with you, because I share the same love of numbers and patterns.  And I love watching Brain Games with you.  Understanding the brain is such a big part of understanding ourselves.  I hope you continue to have this interest, because learning about the brain has had a profound impact on my life.

I love you more each day Dhyan.  It’s hard to believe this is possible sometimes, but as your complexity grows so does my love for you.  And so, as in the past, the fear of losing you grows too.  I guess I’m glad these things happen gradually, because it means I only have to get a little bit stronger every day.  This fear is something I can only look at from a distance. It is too big to engage in it for any serious length of time.  It is so large that it actually becomes a helpful reminder that losing yourself in what might be ruins any chance you have of enjoying and making a difference in what is.  That’s one of the few truths I know that I want to make sure you understand as well.  A realization that has come far later in life than I wish it had.

Happy birthday my sweet young man.  I look forward to watching you grow another year, and I just want you to know that you teach me things too, and I also grow.  I also want you to know that every time you love someone you change too.  It doesn’t matter whether they are a child or an adult.  I am so excited to be on this journey of life with you.

Salvation Army sneaks Creationist Literature to Children at Science Fair

Yesterday I took my son to a science fair here in our small city of Washington, PA called STEMfest.  It was the first time that such an event has occurred in the city, and after talking with one of the organizers I was pretty excited that this was something I could take my 5 year old. It was your typical science fair for the most part with local tech companies, universities and private high schools doing science demos and activities for kids.  For some reason the Salvation Army was there, but they seemed to be just there out of the goodness of their hearts.  They had little plastic cups where they helped the kids make slime.  Kids love making slime and then put it in a little ziploc bag.  I noticed that they also had slightly bigger Salvation Army plastic bags which I thought was just an extra safeguard in case the slime leaked out and didn’t get the other take home stuff from the event wet with slime.  However, something else was lurking in the bag.

Fast forward to this morning and my son is taking out stickers in this:

 

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Notice the cover indicates is meant to lure kids into believing this contains scientific information.  A bible resides on the science lab desk and somehow a cross appears in the atom symbol.

The pages inside don’t get any better by making their religious nonsense appear to be part of things for which we have scientific evidence.

 

At least they are promoting women in science right?  You can see the attempt to legitimize bible verses and religious rhetoric as scientific.  They have the gall to call this a Time Traveler Guide, but Day 1-5 is Creation, Old Testament, Visitation, Preparation, and Celebration. Inside is also a plastic transparency like thing where you are supposed to use a flashlight to find various scientific items, bible verses and symbols in a science lab.  A page of stickers, and then finally this exercise which asks the kid to “Complete the timeline with correct daily drawing sticker”

 

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My son was playing with stickers in the book before I saw what this was.  Fortunately he can’t read yet and constructed this according to his own logic, which I think you’ll like.  He says to me that “fire creates trees and then new leaves, leaves cause clouds and then rain, rain causes evil kings, and evil kinds lead to death.” We watch a lot of nature shows so he know forest fires lead to new growth and he knows trees give off a lot of moisture and creates clouds and rain in rain forests.  The evil king thing though remains a mystery.  🙂  Anyway, I told his explanation makes more sense than what this is actually trying to tell you.  This booklet is made by “Answers in Genesis”.  Which, as many know, is a particular dishonest Christian fundamentalist organization trying to push the Bible as being literally true (except for the parts that make no sense).

I am definitely going to complain to the organizers.  Despite this being a conservative county, I don’t expect they knew this was going on.  Given the one organizer I had talked to prior to the event, I don’t think the organizers intended for any booth to hand out religious literature.  The fact that such anti-science creationist nonsense was being snuck to kids, I’m sure (I hope) will come as a surprise.

My dad always had a soft spot for the Salvation Army as when my parents were starting out life together and didn’t have much money.  Salvation Army was helpful to them and was willing to marry them, as many other Christian pastors wouldn’t as they rejected a mixed marriage.  As a result I will still thrown in some money when they are asking for donations around Christmas time.  No longer.  The disturbing part here is how deviously the Salvation Army hid what they were handed out while sucking kids in with a fun activity, and how the booklet itself misrepresents religious claims as scientific with images meant to trick and indoctrinate children.  It’s simply appalling.  So be aware parents when taking your kids to a science event, you may find a wolf in a scientist’s clothing.