Seven Years

Dear Jason,

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.

Three Years

Today is your birthday. I know that you are aware of this, because for the past two months you've been saying "I want that for my birthday" whenever you see a commercial or a toy or an article of clothing that you like. I have a suspicion that you won't remember everything you've asked for—or maybe it's just a hope.

Since your last birthday you started pre-school. You've impressed everyone at your school with your personality and your intellect; the director likes to say that you're "tiny and mighty." I think that's apt. You're smaller than just about everyone you meet, but you have spunk, and you make your opinions known. (Sometimes, maybe, Mommy and I might wish that you could be a little less, shall we say, forceful in your opinions, but we also love that you have so much to say.) You hold your own, even amongst kids who are bigger and older.

But you're also still our sweet girl, and nowhere does that show more than in how you are with your baby sister. Every night before you go to bed, you insist on getting to hold her, and all day you pepper her with kisses. You try to comfort her when she's fussy, sing to her in the car, and just generally do your best to take care of her. It makes me so proud.

We have our challenges, too, which is only to be expected for a girl about to be three. You're growing into yourself, bouncing off the boundaries we put in place for you. You're not always thrilled with me and Mommy. But every day I'm thankful to have such a funny, smart, affectionate, wonderful girl in my life. I love you, sweetie.

Soundtrack: "Love and Oceans" by The Dimes. Used with permission.

Six Years

Dear Jason,

In just a few days you're going to have a new baby sister, but today is your day. I know you're still disappointed that you're not going to have a brother, but I have been so impressed with how helpful you have been to your mom and Eva and me. You are a really good big brother—having a little sister is frustrating sometimes, but you are always looking out for Eva and trying to do things for her, and I am so proud whenever I see that.

This past year has been a big one for you. You started school and had a great kindergarten year. You made lots of new friends, but still kept in touch with some of your old pre-school buddies. You have made a lot of progress in learning to read and write, and I've been so proud of how hard you've worked at it, even though you don't always want to. You work hard at practicing lots of things: swimming, tying your shoes, karate. You even do a great job of keeping your room clean.

We went to Legoland this weekend for your birthday, and what I really love about how grown up you've gotten is how much fun we have together now. We had a blast going on the waterslides together, and going on rides, and looking for the little people in Miniland. I love that you get so excited about things like explaining the Star Wars scenes to your uncle, or explaining Pokemon to your grandfather. I hope that you never lose that enthusiasm.

Today is your birthday, and I hope it's a great one. Happy birthday, pal. I love you.

Soundtrack: "Trees to Stone (Instrumental)" by Fremont. Used with permission.

Two Years

Dear Eva,

You've been telling people that you're two for the past few weeks, but today is the day that it actually happens.

Everybody talks about the "terrible twos," but even though you've certainly become much more opinionated over the past year, I have a feeling that you're going to keep being your same sweet self. It's something that everyone notices about you, how happy and good-natured you are. You're affectionate and empathetic, playful, and just generally wonderful to be around. Yesterday when you and Mommy met me for lunch, as soon as I opened your car door you greeted me by saying, "Hi Daddy. I missed you." And then you gave me a hug.

Of course it's hard not to love that kind of sweetness, but there's so much more I've gotten to know about you that also makes me smile. I love that you've picked up numbers and counting so quickly. I love that you like to introduce yourself to me every other day. ("Hi. I Eva.") I love that you will quack at yourself in the mirror when I wrap you in your ducky towel after bathtime. I love that you love books so much. I love that you're just as into pirates as you are into princesses. And I love that you get along so well with your brother.

I haven't gotten to see you as much as either of us would have liked over the past few months, since I've been spending so much time at work. Sometimes you cry when I leave in the mornings. But then, you're just as attached to Mommy and Jason, and you see them all the time. I'm sorry for all the time I've missed, and I hope you know how much I cherish the time I do get with you, with the whole family. We're going to Disneyland this weekend to celebrate and have fun and spend time together, and I promise I will be there for that.

Today's going to be a great day, my girl. Happy birthday! I love you.

Soundtrack: "Summer Breeze Extended" by Nicholas Pesci. Used with permission.

Five Years

Dear Jason,

This morning you woke me up in order to ask me if I could get out of bed soon. Even though I was still feeling a little fuzzy with sleep, I could hear the anticipation and excitement in your voice about the pile of presents on the kitchen table. But I could also tell that you were holding yourself back, trying to be polite and patient, and it made me think of how much you've learned about self-control.

We talk a lot about the five tenets of tae kwon do that you learned in your karate class: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit. You know them all by heart, but more than that, you've learned a lot about what they all mean. Sometimes you make mistakes--just like all of us do--but when we talk about them, you're able to tell us which tenet is the one to work on. Every day I'm amazed at how much you understand and how mature you've become. I'm very proud to be your dad.

Now that you're older, we've been doing more things together. I love getting to take you to the movies, and watching shows with you in the evenings like Avatar. I love getting to show you things that I loved as a kid, like Star Wars. I love putting together Lego sets with you, and reading chapter books with real stories to you. I love that you can really swim now, and that when we go to the beach you are as passionate about digging big holes as I am.

Last night as I was putting the finishing touches on your birthday video, your mom asked me how many more times I'd be making these videos and writing these letters to you. It's something I've thought a lot about and never really figured out. But for now you're still excited about it--you asked to watch the video six times before I even finished it, and you got a big kick out of seeing yourself on the screen. So I figure that at least this one more year, I'll do this.

I don't know what the future will bring or how we'll all change in the next year, but I'm looking forward to finding out together.

Happy birthday, buddy.

Soundtrack: "Boop" by Podington Bear. Used with permission.

One Year

Dear Eva,

I wanted to write this to you yesterday, but unfortunately we were a day late getting home from our trip to Maine, so my very first birthday letter to you is belated. You don't know, of course, since you can't read and don't know what a birthday is yet, but my hope is that someday when you're older you'll understand how much I loved you when I wrote this to you, and how much I still do.

Today, the day after your birthday, hasn't been the best day for you--you're still tired from the time change, on top of which you're fussy from getting your shots. But you still squealed with glee when you splashed in the bath, and when we shook our heads at each other in the mirror afterwards, and when I combed your hair, and when I handed you to your mother. You have only six teeth right now, so your smile is perhaps a bit unfinished. But it is beautiful, like everything about you, and all the more so because you're so free with it. I hope you always will be. I wonder if you will.

I wonder a lot of things about you. I wonder what you'll look like when your hair grows out. I wonder what kinds of things you'll be interested in--will you like princesses like the other girls we know, or will you like swords like your brother? Or both, maybe? I wonder what you will talk about when you learn to talk. I wonder what will inspire you to take your first steps.

I sometimes wish I could see the future, to be able to know what our story will be. But none of us get to do that, and maybe it's better that we can't. I'll tell you this, though: before you came, I thought I knew a bit about parenting and babies and childhood, but at every turn you've surprised me, from your sunny disposition to your easy sleeping to the fact that you're a good eater. Getting to know you and getting to be a part of your story so far has been one of the best things in my life, and I can't wait to see what happens next.

I love you, baby girl. Happy birthday.

Soundtrack: "I Belong to You" by Lauren O'Connell. Used with permission.

Four Years (and a Day)

Dear Jason,

You turned four yesterday. It was a pretty good day--you got to open presents and have a special breakfast with your aunt and uncle; you rode on a real bicycle for the first time; you got to skip your nap; you went to your friend's party at Pump It Up and had lots of fun, and you were very gracious in making sure that he got to be the special birthday boy, even though it was your birthday, too.

You've been doing a lot of that lately, being reasonable and gracious and well-behaved. You do still have your outbursts, but you do seem to have left your threes behind. I love being able to talk with you, now that you're old enough to have real conversations. I love seeing you talk with your friends and your sister, too.

Speaking of your sister, when I wrote your birthday letter last year I mentioned some of the things you thought you'd do when you got to be a big brother. As it has turned out, you have given your sister lots of gentle hugs and kisses (and a few less gentle ones), but you haven't driven my car yet. I said last year that I thought you'd be a good big brother, and you are. I know that sometimes it's hard to have a baby sister, because babies get lots of attention and they don't know not to hit or bite or pull hair. Sometimes you get upset, but even then you're always sweet with Eva. It makes me proud to see the way you take care of her.

This afternoon when were watching gymnastics, you said that you were going to go to the Olympics. You said you were a really fast runner and a really good swimmer. (Then you were surprised that Mommy and I never went to the Olympics.) I don't know if you'll be an Olympian some day, but maybe you will. I love that you already dream big. I hope you can still dream that big when you get to be a grown-up.

I love you, buddy. Happy belated birthday.

Soundtrack: "Love Love Love" by Sunbeam. Used with permission.

Pictures from Preschool

This year for Teacher Appreciation Week, I decided to be a bit more organic than last year's interview:

Three Years

Dear Jason,

As I write this, there are still thirty minutes left in your birthday. Actually, this means that my timing is pretty good, since you were born around 11:30 PM. I'd like to say that was intentional, but that would be a lie, and as I'm always telling you, it's not nice to lie.

It's been a big year for you. You got your first big boy bed in January. You had your first dance recital. You were a "ring bear" at your Auntie's wedding. You got to go to Disneyland for the first time. I wasn't there for that last one because I had to work--sometimes it feels like I miss a lot because of work, but then when I go back and look at the pictures I see that I was actually around for most things. I hope that's true, anyway.

The thing you've most been looking forward to--other than your birthday party, which you've been talking about since October--is your baby sister being born. You talk about it all the time. "I'm going to do that when I'm a big brother," you'll say. Some of your claims are reasonable, like when you say you're going to give your sister kisses and gentle hugs when you're a big brother. Some are less reasonable, like when you say you're going to drive Daddy's car. You're also quite adamant that the name you picked for her--Tinkerbell--is her real name, and you will brook no disagreement. I wonder how long that will stick.

Every day I see you figure out something new--you're growing up faster than I know how to deal with. You already can't wait to be big; I can't help but want you to stay young. Though, I suppose if I'm being honest, I'll be OK with you growing up if it means fewer tantrums. (Maybe in a year I'll be laughing at myself having written that.) Well, I suppose I have to be OK with it either way.

I think a lot about your future, especially about how it'll be for you once your sister arrives. I think you'll be a good brother, but then I think it might be kind of hard for you sometimes, too. I know it was hard for me sometimes--you can ask Uncle Karl about that when you get older, I'm sure he'll have plenty of stories for you. Sometimes when I think about what we're taking away from you by having another baby it makes me sad, but my hope is that in the long run we'll be giving you more than you lose. All I can tell you is that for Mommy and me, having siblings has been one of the best and most important parts of our lives. I hope you feel that way, too.

You're asleep right now, which is good because it's late and you had a big day with Mommy at Legoland. I wasn't there for that, but I will be there when we go to Disneyland this weekend, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how happy you're going to be. You and me, kiddo, we're going to have some good times.

Happy birthday, buddy. I love you.

Soundtrack: "Wavy Glass," by Podington Bear

Jason Appreciates His Teachers

...even if he doesn't really know what "appreciate" means.