Today you are officially a teenager! You've grown a lot in the past year. You've grown physically, of course—you're taller than Mom now—but you've grown as a person, too. It's been such a strange year in so many ways, one that we've mostly spent at home. You said the other day that it feels weird that in a few weeks you'll be in eighth grade since you never really got to feel like you were in seventh grade. That makes sense to me, but I also know you can do it. And even though this year has had its hardships, I am so grateful that I've gotten to spend so much time with you. And I know that whatever comes in this next year, we'll have our good times together, too.
Soundtrack: "Break Through (With Oohs) (Instrumental)," by Saxons. Licensed from Marmoset Music.
Today you are twelve years old. None of us expected to be celebrating your birthday in quarantine—even when all this started, I didn't think it would still be going on by the time your birthday came around—but here we are. I think that times of adversity have a way of showing us who we are, and during this time you have shown that you are a thoughtful and kind person. It hasn't been easy being stuck at home, away from school and away from friends, but you've had a good attitude about it all. I've enjoyed getting to spend more time with you, and I've enjoyed watching you spend time playing with or helping your sisters. I'm proud, too, at how hard you've worked and how perseverant you've been. During distance learning, you pushed through and spent a lot of time every day getting your work done, even when you had to struggle with some of it. And you've stuck with our running training over the past several months, finishing your first 5K in June. It's not the most comfortable thing, running while wearing a mask, but you do it, and you don't even complain. Well, you don't complain much. ;)
I hope that the difficulties of this time mean that something good is coming, and I hope that your next year brings you a lot of joy. I know that you'll do your best, because you always do. I'm glad to get to spend the time with you, and I'm looking forward to seeing you continue to grow and continue to be the wonderful person you already are.
Soundtrack: "Hope (With Woahs) (Instrumental)," by The Dimes. Licensed from Marmoset Music.
Today you are eleven years old. Something I'm thinking about is how much your birthdays have changed since you were little. In the past when we would ask you what you wanted to do for your birthday, you'd want to have a party or go to an amusement park, things like that. This year, your requests were: Korean barbecue, tacos, and the beach with a few friends. There are a lot of things that remind me that you're growing up, that you're not a little kid anymore. This was one of those things. Mostly, I'm just happy to be able to have the time with you, to have things that we can do together that we all enjoy.
It feels like a milestone birthday this year, to me anyway. Does it feel like that to you? You're headed to middle school next year, and you got your first phone. Sometimes I miss you being little, but I'm always just so happy to get to know who you are now, and who you're becoming. Mostly, I'm just thankful that you're such a big-hearted, kind, funny person who always tries so hard to do what's right. You're a good kid, and you make me a good dad.
Happy birthday, Jason. I hope the day brings you much joy!
Soundtrack: "See The World (With Woahs) (Instrumental)," by The Dimes. Licensed from Marmoset Music.
As I’m typing this right now, you and one of your best friends are sitting on your hotel room bed, poring over a theme park map to try to decide what we’re going to do tomorrow. Today has been a particularly great day—we’ve been planning this trip for months, and it hasn’t disappointed. Getting to see you having such a great time has been wonderful.
I don’t know what to say that I haven’t said to you a million times before. I’m proud of you every day. You are enthusiastic and kind, you’re a hard worker, and you care a lot about doing the right thing. Over the past year you have become a great reader, too—I know I don’t let you stay up late as often as you’d like, but the fact that you have so often asked to stay up just to finish one more chapter makes me so happy.
More than anything, I’m glad that we have fun together. I’m looking forward to the morning and getting to have more fun with you. I’m looking forward to seeing what the next year brings for you and for me and for all of our family.
Happy birthday, Jason!
Soundtrack: “Summit (Instrumental),” by Hugo Hans. Licensed from Marmoset Music.
As I write this, you are asleep. I think you probably would be surprised at how quickly you fell asleep, given how excited you were when you got into bed, but it's true: you were out in just a few minutes. But, truth be told, I'm excited, too.
You've said many times over the past few months that this year has been hard for you. It's been hard for me as well, as it has for many people, but even though I wish we were all in a better situation, it makes me so proud to know that you care so deeply about doing the right thing, helping other people, fairness, kindness. I tell you this all the time, but it's true: I'm proud that I get to be your dad, and I'm happy to know you.
Every year, every week, it gets more and more fun to be your dad. Last weekend we started playing co-op video games for the first time, and that was great. And our reading time is always one of my favorite parts of the day. So far this year we've read The Lord of the Rings and two more Harry Potter books, and I love how enthusiastic you are about these stories.
Today is your day, buddy. I hope it's a great one. Happy birthday!
Soundtrack: "Hooked (Instrumental)" by Hotbloods. Used with permission.
For the past few nights you’ve been having trouble sleeping because you’re so excited about your birthday. This is really one of my favorite things about you, that you get excited about things. Just in the past few days you have been excited about your birthday, about Pokemon, about getting a new pair of flip-flops just like the ones I have, about eating hamburgers, and a bunch of other things that I can’t remember. I know that you’ve heard me say this before, but I hope that as you keep growing and getting older, you will hang on to that excitement.
What can I say to you that I haven’t said already so many times? I tell you all the time that I love you, because I do. I tell you that I am proud of you, because I am. I tell you that I am lucky to be your dad, because it’s true. I tell you these things almost every day, it seems like, and when I was your age I probably would have rolled my eyes and said “You already told me that.” But you take it a lot more gracefully than I would have.
You really are a great kid, my boy, and I hope that you have a great day today. Happy birthday, buddy. I love you.
Soundtrack: "The Atmosphere (Instrumental)" by Beachcomber. Used with permission.
Every year I write you a letter and make a video for you. In a lot of ways, what goes into these letters isn't much different from what I do every day: I think about you, what you're like, how you've grown, and how much I love you. Lately, too, I've been thinking a lot about what kind of man you will be when you're grown up, and what the world will be like when you get there. A lot happens out in the world, some of it good and some of it bad, and sometimes I worry about the problems you will face some day. But more and more I am comforted by the ways that you show me how good a person you are. You make me very proud to be your dad.
In just the past week, two different families have commented to me and your mom about how polite and mature you are. And it's true: sometimes life gets frustrating, but you are really good at talking things out, and you care a lot about doing the right thing. This year you became a big brother for the second time, and you are so good at taking care of your new baby sister. You play with her and you talk to her. You're just a great brother, to both of your sisters.
Another big step for you was earning your junior black belt, after two whole years persevering and learning in your karate class. I've gotten to come visit your class more often this year, and I love to see how good you are at focusing and improving your skills.
But most of all, I love that you're fun and funny. After we went and saw Inside Out, I've liked to say that you live on Goofball Island. In fact, just as I was writing this letter to you, you came and joked around with me about boogers, and also tried to tickle me. (Your mom doesn't like the booger jokes as much, but that's OK. This can be our thing.) I like that you're playful and enthusiastic, and I hope that never changes.
Tomorrow is your birthday, and I'm taking the whole day off work so I can spend it with you. It's going to be a great day, I know it. Happy birthday, pal.
Soundtrack: "Baby Is Unseen" by Beachcomber. Used with permission.
He really started noticing the camera when he was about three. That is, he'd seen it before, but that's the age when he really started to understand what it meant, and that I was looking at him. I don't know that it was self-consciousness, exactly, though that came too, eventually. But sometimes he didn't want to play along, and so he began to hide himself. He would duck his head down, or sometimes simply close his eyes in protest. Back then, it came with a scowl.
That was when I started asking his permission to take the pictures.
Nowadays, he will agree or disagree to being in a picture. Sometimes he will come along grudgingly, sometimes with enthusiasm. Sometimes not at all. Just before I took this picture, I told him that the light was really nice, and asked him if he would sit up so I could take a picture. He said OK, and closed his eyes. I asked him if he was sure it was OK, and he patiently said yes, so I clicked the shutter.
Shortly afterwards, a mischievous grin stole across his face and he pulled his pants down, shoving his back side toward the lens. "Take a picture of that!" he shouted gleefully.
So I did.
He said it was his favorite picture ever.
Juliette sometimes looks at photos and says that his feet look like mine. His toes haven't quite lost that round, chubby, baby toe-ness, not yet. But his feet are getting longer and narrower.
Last night he decided that he wanted to take a shower—I think he was tired of waiting for his sister to finish her chores. He doesn't do this often yet, but he will. And then this kind of picture—of which I must have hundreds—will get fewer and farther between. The girls will still be taking baths for a while, of course. I suppose that softens the blow a bit, but each child is an individual, and parenting each one is its own story. Having younger kids doesn't really make me miss the oldest's littleness any less.
"Dinner is just about ready," I say. "It's time to clean up and come inside."
"OK!" she says.
A few minutes later I return. She is stooped over in the middle of lawn, picking up leaves one by one. The yard is still littered with toys.
"Eve, come on," I say. "You can play with the leaves some other time. You have to clean up and come in to dinner now."
"No! I'm not playing!" she insists. "I have to put the leaves in my collection!"
Around the corner, next to the crowd of tricycles and scooters, lies a little pile of yellow and green, fading to brown. She crouches down and places the leaf in her fingers right in the middle.
"Is that your collection?" I ask.
"Yes," she says. She's so proud.