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

A year of conversation

                        When I knew you
I was spring

Ready for rebirth
For things to begin anew

Hope penetrated my soil
You beamed at me
Love blossomed
                         When I knew you
I was summer
Days were hazy
And lazy flowing
One into the next

Love was carefree
and easy
                        When I knew you
                         I was autumn
                                       Looking back was peaceful
                                       I tried to consume
                                       And store you
Making sure I survived
Cold months ahead
                      When I knew you
I was winter
I needed warmth so badly

I was desperate
Starved in frozen land
Trying to bring some light
To dark days
                          I know you
And you know me
I am the seasons
And though seasons change
There are threads
That bind them
                         I am always
The air you breath
I am day
I am night
I am the sun
I am clouds
Shifting

I am turning
I am stargazing
I am the moon
I have phases
I am gravity
Keeping you grounded

I am wind
Blowing worries away
Love has many parts
Shapes

But I shall keep it safe
Always in you arms

*Just FYI this poem is mean to be a conversation. Bolded (or centered) lines are spoken by both people together. This is not meant to be gendered. It’s just about love.

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.

Atmospheric Disturbances

Along the westerlies
on that jet you see
you came to me
I stumbled topside-down
moving north and south
the words out of your mouth
and gathered the clouds

feet were cold
to your hot
we met at the boundary

you go low
I go high
and we’ll swirl around the sky
rain rolls in
rain rolls past
bad weather never lasts

we’ll rain down
to the ground
Find some dew
together
me and you

we are the lifeblood
of Earth

Of Myths and Monsters

The Minotaur seems very nice
A little rough
Around polished edges
Intelligent
This comes from being two people
Animals?
Detached because he’s misunderstood
Misunderstood because he’s detached
But you can set the man free from bull
He’s a gentle beast after all
Right?
Tear down those four walls
Ring placed hopeful on hairy hands
And suddenly you’ll be a-mazed
It’s not four walls
And you’re inside

In fabled tales of old
The story’s often told
How Theseus searched for Minotaur to slay
But you’re no hero
He’ll bring your will to zero
And in that maze you’ll stay

It’s all in your mind
But I think you’ll find
Your hope is never-ending
Which way to go
You’ll think you know
With your wind and all your wending

Illusion of choice
Suppression of voice
He’s there to block your way
If you do the math
And find another path
He’s sure to make you pay

Well wrong IS wrong
Also right is wrong
Lost and listless
Crawling on hands and knees
Questioning
Every decision you’ve made
Never pleasing his taurine form

You must be a bad person
You must not know how to love
You must be unlovable
You will never escape

And why do you deserve freedom?
It’s his labyrinthine home
Or you’ll always be alone

Sacrifice and appease
Then get on your knees
Or the Minotaur will rage
If you cause displeasure
He’ll use violent measures
Deadening ends within his cage

No straight lines
You’ll look for a sign
And cry out to the skies above
But if there is a God
Who observes you plod
He’s not one made from love

In truth your only sin
Was to open the door and let him in
And offer him your heart
But he’s had you pegged
In his morass you’re dragged
He’s been bending you from the start

What cosmic justice cares about us?
Kindness may be a virtue
The king of all
But why should souls
Who are manifest
Of love and compassion
Be prey to the most monstrous of humans?

If this be divine law or decree
Said Consciousness can keep it
Leave us alone
The heartbreak is too much for us mortals
Do You not hear women weeping?
Does not the sound of pleas
From the kindest among us
Trapped forever in mindless mazes
Shake the very foundation of heaven?

Let Kingdoms fall into the sea
Set love and kindness free

Time and Space

when time was time,
and space was space,
we couldn’t move from place to place,
a window on a distant view,
that is when I first saw you

when the past was passed
and there was no future
the moments didn’t need a suture,
raindrops pattered on leaves of trees
and gently did you fall on me

when dreams and fantasy,
met at the nexus,
we drove to the restaurant in my brand new Lexus
under alluring gaze I could not wait,
and paid and left before we ate

when love was love,
and muses were muses,
we didn’t seem to have short fuses,
but reaching arms across the distance,
takes its toll on your resistance

when cold was cold
and hard was hard,
all I could do was mow the yard,
and if I stopped, the tears just fell,
Imprisoned in my private hell

when peace was peace,
and breath was breath,
I buried though there was no death,
all it took was a little liquor,
to close my eyes and see the flicker

when I was me,
and you were you,
that’s all there ever is to do,
hearts will rise and hearts will fall,
there is truth and beauty in it all

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 Aleksander: Year 1

Dear Allie,

I will begin at the beginning.  I write this letter on a Thursday evening a day before your birthday.  It is a Thursday evening that you were born, and it was around this time of 7 pm.  It is both a measure of being more relaxed at a second child being born and also having to care for your older brother that I arrived to see your birth just in the nick of time.  No two births are the same, and yours was proof of that.  No Cesarean, no long wait after labor had been induced, not even enough time for the epidural to kick in on your mother.  I arrived at the hospital and navigated it’s labyrinthine halls to get to the delivery ward, still wondering whether I should have stopped to get that coffee first, figuring it would be a long night.  I waited for a nurse for a few minutes at the nursing station to find out what room your mother was in.  When one finally came she informed me that she was pretty sure my wife was in labor and making a few screams and that I better get down there right away.  I did a somewhat unimpressive jog to the room.  When I opened the door…well it’s hard to describe.  It was a sea of pure femininity.  Numerous nurses stood at the periphery, a doctor stood like a catcher in baseball staring down the birth canal, one nurse on either side holding your mothers legs.  She was screaming in pain, trying to push you out. I stood there somewhat stunned. Quite sure that I was minorly responsible for the present scene due to some past action of mine, but had done little since to earn a place there.  Your mother, was apparently too occupied to notice me, but I assure you I took no offense.  A nurse near the door deftly assumed I was the father and led me through the war zone over to your mother.  Some sort of bloody liquid spurted out of your mother against the doctor’s scrubs.  A nurse stood aside and helped me get a hold of her leg (your mother…not the nurse).  It was at this moment your mother was aware that I was there.  She gave me a glorious smile and all of a sudden she made me feel like I belonged.  She is good at that.  After 3 pushes you came into this world.  I clapped off the dust from my hands, wiped my brow and congratulated myself on a job well done.  Really though your mother was just amazing.  It was beautiful to see, and despite the fact that I saw one life form exit out of another, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.  At the end of it all was you, to hold and love.

For 4 years we had only your brother to love, and the love seemed so overwhelming that I actually wondered if I could feel that kind of love for two children.  It sounds like a silly thing to wonder, but I was worried that it wouldn’t feel the same, that I wouldn’t feel as connected, or that my love wouldn’t grow each day in the same way it did with Dhyan.  You’ll be pleased to know that my worries were unfounded.  It is different, because, well, you’re different, but it’s still intense and it’s still wonderful.  I’ll admit that I don’t get the same thrill in watching your firsts as I did with your brother.  There was certainly a sense of wonder watching a baby grow from birth, and that fascination isn’t quite the same with you.  There was something more academic about it all with your brother, which for me is a thrilling experience, but it somehow all feels more personal with you.  You are a wonder in of itself, because I can tell you look like me in features, but you are this light brown hair and blue eyed version of me which just amazes me.  It’s like watching myself with a blue twinkle in my eye.  It’s surreal.  And I also realized a few months ago that really the biggest part of the sense of wonder I felt with your brother is that I was able to watch him unfold with no basis for comparison.  With you there is.  It’s so easy to compare you to your brother at a particular age, but I realize that’s unfair in many ways.  I vowed on that day to just let you unfold as you are.  No comparisons necessary.  I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job and I hope I can keep it up.  You deserve the freedom to be who you are without the context of your brother.  I don’t need you to be more or less like your brother.  I just need you to be you.

I want you to know that I feel a draw to you that I can’t put my finger on.  I do feel there is more of me in you somehow.  We’ll see how time bears this out.  You have this infectious smile and laugh, and a laid back, easy way about you.  You crawl to me when I come home, even when you mother is home and that’s a pleasant surprise, because your brother was always for mommy only as a baby. 🙂  I feel so close to you already, and your personality is only beginning to show.  I am so anxious to meet you, I just can’t wait to see what surprises you have in store.

My favorite memory of you in this first year, is how attached you are to certain music videos.  You seem fascinated by them, sometimes smiling, but always engaged.  I have such fond memories of you sitting on my lap, sometimes erect and alert and sometimes laid back and cuddly.  You have your favorites and playing a different video from the 13 or so songs you like, usually gets you fidgety and unhappy, but play one you like and you’re quiet as a mouse, content.  I love just having you in my arms while we watch music videos.

You also are fascinated with looking up.  When you were a few months old you were very fascinated looking up at the leaves in the tree.  Now it’s lights, fans, ceilings.  You have this gaze upward that fills your face with fascination, excitement, and wonder.  You love when I spin around holding you in my arms, you look up watching the world spin with you.  I love watching that smile on your face.  I don’t need you to be a meteorologist like me, but I do hope you always like to look up in wonder.

I also am more starkly aware of how long each phase lasts having had your brother and in that way I have come to appreciate each moment more with you.  And since I don’t plan to have any other children, I know these moments won’t come again.  Whether it’s cradling you in my arms, singing you to sleep, or comforting you through the pain of teething, it all feels like something more to savor.  You have just started to walk these last few weeks.  The joy on your face and the sounds you make while doing it just delights me to no end.  Soon that too will pass and you’ll just be walking as if that’s what you always did.  I know from experience that when I sit down and write this letter next year you will be so much more than you are now.  I can’t wait for you to unfold this next year.  I can’t wait for the bloom of spring and the warmth of summer.  I know you are going to love it!  Thank you for being more than I could have hoped for and filling a heart to heights of love I never knew it could reach. Happy Birthday!

Dear New Zealand

At the age of 26 (2000) I was fortunate enough to go to New Zealand.  It was a pit stop on my way to Antarctica where I was helping out with a research project run out of my department at the University of Wyoming to study the stratosphere through balloon launches.  The US Antarctic program launches out of Christchurch, NZ and so I got to spend a day there on the way in, and a spent a week in NZ on the way out.

People say Canadians are friendly, but I have to say this Canadian was humbled by the kindness of the Kiwis.  The closest base to the American base of McMurdo is a Kiwi base.  Every Thursday night the Kiwi base opened theirs to the Americans and it was a few mile trip to go down there to hangout with them in their adorable English style pub on the base, in which the snooker table took up most of the space.  After a couple of visits I got to know some of the Kiwis on the base.  It was a small base and it was the winter season so they were just at a bare bones crew of 17.  When they heard I knew how to make Indian food their eyes lit up as they missed good food badly and said they had all the spices and some onions that were about to turn if they didn’t get used right away and would I mind terribly if I cooked them all some curry.  It was an easy sell for me because they were wonderful people and so me and my colleagues came down on another night, and I cooked dinner and we had a wonderful time.

When I came back to New Zealand I spent a couple days in Christchurch and then went on a hike in their wonderful national park system on the north part of the South Island.  I was not an experienced backpacker and on the first day of the hike, my sleeping bag fell off my backpack without me noticing and by the time I did it was too far to go back and get it.  It was still only spring there and I made it through with just my quilted fleece during the night, but I certainly didn’t sleep well.  So you don’t have to bring a tent, they have these huts along the way of these hikes you can sleep in.  My sleeping bag was returned to the first hut.  When I made it to the hut I was planning on staying in for the night, the lady who was operating the hut said she received word by radio that my sleeping bag had been found.  I told her there was no real way for me to get it.  I was hiking through to another town and then taking a bus back to Christchurch.  I simply expected the sleeping bag as an item I wouldn’t get back.  But the lady there arranged so that the bus I took back to Christchurch would meet a bus leaving from the town close to the first hut at a shared stop by the two buses.  And sure enough it happened.  I was shocked.  The fact that they would make the effort like this to return a sleeping bag that I foolishly lost was amazing to me.

As I wandered around Christchurch one day looking for lunch I found this little restaurant.  It wasn’t really during lunchtime and the place was empty.  A little Maori woman ran the shop.  We chatted for a bit.  She thought for some reason I was a Mormon missionary.  I told her why I had come from the U.S. and I decided to order a burger from her menu.  She was so exciting to make an American an burger and she eagerly awaited my reaction when I ate it.  Other that having meat between a bun it really wasn’t like any burger I had eaten.  It was far better.  Given that she really wanted to replicate an American burger, I don’t think my compliments of it being better than an American burger really assuaged her, but I could she beamed a broad smile knowing that she brought a smile to my face.

When I left New Zealand I had to take a flight from Christchurch to Auckland.  As I walked towards my gate from the check-in counter, I was surprised to find myself suddenly at the gate without having passed through security.  This made me very nervous, and I walked up to a counter and said, “I think I might have taken a wrong turn and walked into an area that I shouldn’t because I’m at the gate and I never went through security.”  The woman just smiled in their easy, friendly manner and said “Oh, don’t worry, there’s no security for domestic flights. I remember just thinking to myself, ‘Where am I?  This country is amazing.’

New Zealand is gorgeous.  Rolling green hills, beautiful beaches, lush forests, snow-capped mountains.  I remember seeing snow capped mountains right next to the ocean as a breathtaking sight, one I hope you all get a chance to see if you haven’t.  The people are incredibly warm and laid back.  They are thrill seekers.  They invented bungee jumping.  They have a ridiculous amount of sheep.  I really wanted to move there.  I still do.  It’s the only place I have visited where I just knew in an instant that I could be happy there.

Waking up this morning to the news of the atrocity there was as heartbreaking as anything I could read.  It is the kind of pain you might feel when something that you held is beautiful has been defiled by a vandal.  I sit here, not knowing if that beauty will be restored, or whether this incident will forever change that wonderful country I fell in love with.  One could argue that I wasn’t there long enough to really know that country, but I would disagree.  At least to the point, where I can say with certainty, that this incident does not define them.

Yet I find that I am not surprised.  If there is one thing this modern age has taught us is that these dark seams run through all societies.  We live in a world that has extremism.  The reason such men do these things is the same for all such extremist.  They are driven by the furthest limits of anger, fear, and despair.  The ideology they say they are fighting for is the exact same as the ideology they say they hate.  Just different costumes.  If they succeed at all, it is only because most humans are not like them, and that is important to remember.  I write this letter to you New Zealand to remind you to not let this incident shatter your national identity.  Be who you are, just do it better.  This is a time for introspection, but from the ashes of this horrible incident show the world how your kindness is the spirit that defines you.  Certainly introspection is warranted here, but remember the power of love and unity to combat hate.  For today and for the near future there are families who are grieving.  Grieve with them.  Regardless of skin color or religion, they grieve as humans.  They have lost, children, spouses, parents, friends…there is more that makes you alike than makes you different.   Let all hearts be as one New Zealand.