10
Jul 21

Beatrix: Five and a Half

Hey kiddo,

You’re five and a half, you’re 4 feet tall, and you’re a grade 1 kid in the fall!

Photo of Lily and Beatrix deciding what to order from an ice cream truck in summer

School wrapped for you and your sis ten days ago, and since then we’ve been in a block on the calendar just marked FAM TIME. Ten days of day trips, new foods, swimming, and minecraft. Whatever it took to wash off the remnants of virtual schooling, and get you into a summer mode.

Your school experience during COVID was better than most, but it was still really hard. My last letter to you was when you were still doing in-person school, but most of the last 6 months has been virtual. You did your best, doing crafts and singing French songs by yourself with headphones on, as we worked in the next room. Sometimes you’d come in very proud of something you’d made. Sometimes you’d come in frustrated and crying because you couldn’t hear what the teachers were saying. Because you’d cut your headphone cable. With your safety scissors. Again. (This happened 5 times. When we went wireless, you broke the charging port instead.) You had a better year than many kids have had, we were very lucky. And still you were ready to be done.

We started FAM TIME at a fire pit. Each person burned one thing that reminded them of virtual school that they wanted to be done with. And then we made smores. It was our way of giving you a clear transition. And probably our way of giving us one, too. You burned a picture of COVID that you’d drawn. It’s so strange that a 5 year old knows what a coronavirus looks like. But it continues to be a strange time and I’m just in awe of how well you have rolled with it.

What’s not strange, though, is that you would have art to burn. You have art everywhere. Everywhere. We have to barter with you now, about cleaning up the loose paper clippings and cardboard slivers before we get more paper. The going rate is 10 things in the recycling bin for each new page, and still we can’t keep up with it all. I don’t even want to talk about your tape consumption.

But it’s wonderful, and creative, and expansive art, B. Sometimes you retread the same ground over and over again, and then all of a sudden branch off somewhere new. Last month you were building a cardboard dog house for someone else’s dog. Last week you became utterly fixated on our need for a piƱata. Right now, you’re unstoppable on the subject of halloween decor. Sometimes I’ll just sit with you and scroll through an art gallery’s website and listen to your running commentary.

If you’re marking time as you read these, your mom and I are now double-vaccinated. Almost 80% of Toronto adults have at least one shot, and about 55% are done. For now. There are new variants that are looming, and talk is picking up about annual boosters. The thing about living through a pandemic, B, is how tricky it is to balance. You have to find a healthy place between paying enough attention and not paying too much. If you tune too far out, you put yourself and those you love in danger. If you tune too far in, you will struggle to ever feel fully safe again. That’s true about a lot of scary things, honestly.

I’ve been trying to think about what I can say to you, in this moment, that distills what we’ve learned in the last year and a half. I don’t have enough distance from it yet to be able to see things clearly. The best I’ve got right now is that when things go really sideways, it matters a lot who’s in charge and what they value. We have seen some horrendous things in the last year done by leaders – political, corporate, community – with the wrong values. We have seen heroism and generosity too. But so far the best I have for you, B, is that you should choose leaders very thoughtfully when you’re choosing, and lead compassionately when you’re leading. The consequences reach further than you think.

Right now you’re not too fussed about that, though. You’ve asked us five times today whether day camp starts tomorrow. (It doesn’t, that’s Monday). You are excited to be hanging out with other kids, and to have camp counsellors other than your parents for the first time in a long time. I don’t blame you. I’m excited for you, too.

I love you, B. I’m so proud of you. Goodnight,

Daddy


03
Jan 21

Beatrix: Five

close photo of beatrix's face, smiling and looking down

This letter is a few weeks late. Your mom says that’s the fate of second kids. First kids get the diligence of parents who don’t know any better, and second kids get the rounded edges, hand-me-down version. As a kid who grew up eldest at one home, and youngest at the other, I am ready to believe it. But the important thing is that you’re five and I’m here and I love you.

A lot has happened since my last letter to you. We’re now about 10 months from when the first COVID lockdowns hit. 296 days, give or take. In some parts of the world, it’s been eradicated – they’re close enough to zero cases that people can eat in restaurants again, have guests for dinner again, hug their families again. But not here. Not most places. Canada’s climbing a mean second wave, and your family in the states are staring down a truly monstrous third (though their second never really ended).

You had in-person school in the fall and it has been so good for you and your sis. I have journal notes from those days in the late summer where we were trying to decide what was most right for each of you – it was so hard in that moment to see clearly. And no two families had the same math to do on it. But for us, having you both back was utterly correct. You have flourished. Your teachers are amazing, despite being dealt a very hard hand this year. You come home singing French songs and catching us up on kindergarten drama and telling us who you’re going to marry.

We can’t know what would have been different in a universe without COVID, but in this one, you go nonstop. From the moment you wake up to half an hour past bedtime, it’s a running narrative, interspersed with science facts and correcting us when we misidentify a colour.

Seriously, the colour stuff, B. I dug out my old psych textbooks to see if there was a reliable way to detect human tetrachromacy because I swear you see it differently than the rest of us. You always have. When you were really little, I’d say, “Look, a yellow school bus.” And you’d say, “Orange. Not yellow, daddy, orange.” And you were right. I was calling it yellow as a convention, but in this instance it was clearly orange. I chalked it up then to you being literal, which you are. But the colour stuff keeps going and so I just want to put it here in case the adult you ever wonders if that was always a thing. It was.

You play minecraft with your sis and build rainbows and tree-houses and tell me when the server needs to be reset. You love canned peas, and you eat dessert like your mom. I’m writing this in January and you’re not halfway through your halloween candy. You are also the sloooowest eater and we try to build healthy relationships with food so we’re not giving you shit about it but I swear to god Beatrix it can take you an hour to eat a grilled cheese sandwich.

They’ve started rolling out the early vaccines here to healthcare workers and folks at high risk. Your mom and I figure it’s late spring/early summer before our turn in line. And then however long beyond that for second shots, and enough uptake that case counts drop. We’re not out of this one by a long shot. It makes me sick to think about how much worse it’s been than it needed to be. How many people in a position to make things better failed to rise to the occasion. But my hope is, that by the next time I write one of these, I’ll have better news to share.

Tomorrow you start school again, but virtual. For a week, they say, but your mom and I are braced for longer, if need be. Among the ways our work has changed in the last year is that every RSG child has been part of a management program at one point or another. As have the kids of many of our participants. Last month we taught a toy dinosaur how to think about building a career path. They are beautiful moments in a very hard year.

Thank you for so many beautiful moments. I can’t believe what a big kid you are. I love you, B.

Daddy


14
Jun 20

Beatrix: Four and a Half

Hi B,

Beatrix in a bike helmet, mask, necklaces, and tshirt that reads, "Fearless"

This is it. This is the letter I write you during the COVID-19 pandemic. Technically the pandemic had started when I wrote the last letter to you. But life outside of China hadn’t been impacted much then. Whereas now most of the world has been on some form of lockdown for three months. The whole world, kiddo. All of us.

I don’t think I can put into one letter what that has felt like. And I don’t think you’ll remember much of it when you’re older. But then, it’s hard to say. Your memory is something else.

I guess what I would say is that by the time you’re reading this, I imagine it’s going to feel far away. It’s going to feel like a chapter in a history book, not a thing that real people really lived. It’s going to feel like “things must have been so different then, because I can’t imagine that happening now.” But the thing is that we can’t imagine it happening now, either. I read somewhere that over a billion children were out of school last month. It will be hard to convey to people who weren’t there what an otherworldly thing the last few months have been.

Right now it’s not just the pandemic, either. All over the world people are marching in protest, despite the virus. We talk to you and your sis about it a fair bit. I wonder how you’ll think about it all, by the time you read this. Right now you understand a concept like anti-Black racism in the context of fairness – of individual decisions to treat other people with respect. That’s where we start. We’re starting to get into more conversations about the structures and systems that perpetuate it. And about our role in dismantling those systems. You asked if we can pour hot sauce on racists. You also asked why those police weren’t in jail.

It’s a heart-achy time, B. No getting around it. The lockdowns made everything weird, especially at the beginning. It felt a bit panicky to go to a grocery store (before everything moved to online-order and curbside pickup). I think some people will have that fear for a while yet. And for you, it meant that you did the second half of junior kindergarten at home, with us, and videos from your teachers. We worried for a bit there about the social impact of it. But you’re a resilient kid and the warm weather has you saying hello to neighbours and dogs again.

It’s not all bad. I know this letter is glum – as I said, our hearts are hurting right now. But we’ve also spent the last 3 months with you in ways we wouldn’t have thought possible. Your mom and I have pushed a lot of the business work to the evenings, after you’re asleep. That’s not a perfect arrangement either, but it means that we have gotten so much time with you and your sis. You’re learning to read. To ride a bike. You’re such a funny kid. Curious about how everything works. And empathetic to bursting. When you worry that you’ve hurt someone’s feelings or gotten in trouble, you crawl under the table to process it. We call it shame-turtling. It’s beautiful.

It has been hard. Really hard. But I’m also so grateful for this time. I don’t know if that will make sense to you, either. That’s appropriate, though. 2020 is a chaotic year. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. But it’s changing things, B. And a lot of it feels like change that was overdue. I am so curious how it will feel to you, looking backwards.

Love you, B.

Daddy


02
Jan 20

Beatrix: Four

Hi B,

This morning you yelled for 20 minutes about how we had to tape your banana back together. Because it had been opened improperly.

This is the best age you’ve ever been. Since my last letter to you, you’ve started Junior Kindergarten. It’s been really incredible to watch you grow into it. Your birthday means you’ll always be one of the youngest in your class, but most people don’t know it. You’re a tall, strong kid. You’re extremely verbal. You have a stronger command presence than most adults, for better or for worse.

Your emotions are so unguarded these days, and it catches me in my chest sometimes. Your sis was the same way. Your giggles are the best. And when your feelings are hurt, there’s no attempt to hide it. Just this abject pouting sorrow that takes over your whole body. It’s so extreme it would make us laugh if it weren’t so serious. You don’t know what to do with all these feelings either. Sometimes when you think you’re in trouble you’ll start frantically looking around for things to throw or break to try to get in more trouble. I don’t think you even know why.

And still this age is the best. You want to talk about T-cells, and lava, constantly. You make me recite major portions of The Princess Bride in exchange for eating your dinner. You have individual run-on sentences that can go for 10 minutes or more. And you collect everything. You are one of the only kids in your class who knows what the word “hoarder” means. You pick up a pine cone, or a good leaf, or the stick from an old cake pop and tell us, “I have to add this to my collection.” Never “want to.” Only, “have to.”

When you were littler, your sis was someone who would come and go and I think you didn’t really understand the pattern to it. You understand more now. Enough that when it’s time for Lil to go back to her other home for a week, you really feel it. And each time Lil comes back to our place, you two spend the first evening re-negotiating how to be together. You just don’t know what to do with yourself every time she comes back. After a day you settle back in to being sisters and that’s pretty great, too.

Your mom and I talk a lot about that. About how you two get each other in a way that no one else does. Lil is your big sis and big sisters are always annoyed with little sisters, but she takes care of you and you look up to her. She is one of the only people in the world whose authority you accept. Watching the two of you read books together, or paint, or listening to you talk her ear off. Well that’s my hobby now on alternating Saturdays.

On Monday you head back to school after the break and not a moment too soon. Two weeks without structure has made you loopy, and maybe the rest of us, too. After the banana incident you threw a pine cone. You know it’s serious when you’re disrupting your collection.

I love you, ridiculous creature.

Daddy


01
Sep 19

Lily: Nine and a Half

Hi Kid,

Tomorrow you start grade 4 and it feels like everything is changing. You’re in the same school with the same friends, but even since my last letter to you so much is different.

There’s the obvious stuff. Your mom moved. You’ve grown half a foot. But what keeps catching me when I’m not paying attention is how much you’ve grown up. There are these moments when you’re talking or even just sitting on the couch reading where you could be 10, or 12, or 14. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’ve had this sense of it several times over the summer and it knocks me over. It makes me feel happy and sad at the same time. It feels very fast.

Missy and I have this joke that, if you ever got a tattoo, it would be a heart with the world “Rules” on it. You are a kid who likes to know the rules, and to help other people remember them. B will often come up when the two of you are playing and say, “Lily, can you be in charge?” Your teachers have come up with every euphemism they can to express it on report cards and at parent teacher nights. At one point your grandma said you were being bossy. Missy and I shouted from the next room, “confidence & leadership skills!” It’s part of your brand, is what I’m saying.

But I’ve been thinking about your relationship to rules, and what it will be as you grow up. Because I’ll tell you, kiddo, I was also really good at rules. I broke a few in pretty big ways, but overall rules felt like a game I knew how to win. And I got a lot of positive feedback for following those rules well. You get a lot of it, too.

What I want to tell you, though, Lil, is that they aren’t all good. You can be too good at following the rules. And it can stop you from seeing that you’re playing the wrong game. Sometimes the rules let you succeed, but they keep other people from ever having a chance. That’s not a good game to play. Those are rules worth breaking. Sometimes the rules say you have to stay somewhere, or with someone, that makes you unhappy. I know this is hard to imagine, but the rules can be so loud, kiddo. People follow those rules. I’ve followed those rules. But I hope so much that you won’t.

The secret is to know that we can write new rules. For ourselves. For our relationships. For the whole world if we need to. It’s helpful to know the rules. But it’s also helpful to look at where they’re steering you. To realize that they are not always good ones. We have to make our own decisions about what’s right. And it’s helpful to know that you can break those rules if they’re steering you wrong. You can break them if you need to, kid. I will love you no matter what.

In other news, you had an amazing summer. You hiked, swam, biked, and caught frogs. You made claymation movies, and chimichurri. You had your first ramen, first bubble tea, first manicure, and first charcoal ice cream. I’m so excited to see what grade 4 brings, and so grateful for the time we had together this summer.

One quick note before I go: I think this may be the last of these letters – at least publicly. You and I have talked about it a couple times. You know these letters exist, I’ve never kept them a secret from you. But you and your friends are getting more digitally literate now. I don’t think there’s anything too embarrassing in them, but I also know how complicated it will be to navigate the next 10 years.

You told me last week it would be fine to keep writing them. I might do that. But privately, now. You don’t need me telling your story to the world any more. You’re starting to be the one holding the pen.

I’m so proud of the person you’re becoming. It’s all happening faster than I can really handle, but that’s the way of things and I wouldn’t change it. I love you, Lil.

Daddy


17
Jun 19

Beatrix: Three and a Half

Hi kiddo,

This weekend you turned three and a half and you are treating it as a very big deal. You have been asking what three and a half year olds get to do that three year olds don’t. We have been suggesting that three and a half year olds have fewer tantrums than three year olds, to limited effect.

But it’s true, you are a much bigger kid now. Since my last letter, you’re out of diapers, out of your crib, riding a balance bike, and getting ready to start kindergarten in the fall. That went by really fast, B.

It’s warmer now, even if summer is taking its time getting here. Last year you would hide behind our legs when the neighbours were out on the street. This year you march up to them and tell them about fire hydrants and flowers, whether they asked or not. You’re still an introverted kid like your parents (and your sis!) but you’re finding your confidence. Don’t let anyone ever tell you those things are incompatible. One is about who you choose to be around, and one is about who you choose to be.

You have big feelings these days. The other day in the car I was too slow to respond to you pointing out a backhoe on the shoulder, and you got upset that I was “not respecting your words.” And sometimes when you’re crying you’ll shout, with this incredible 3.5-year-old self-awareness, that you don’t know how to calm yourself down. But it’s not just the hard emotions – your happiness is dialed way up, too. Your giggles are incredible, and they come out most when you’re with Lil. So is your curiosity. You notice things. You notice everything.

The other day we were walking you home from preschool, and you were up ahead with your mom. I was watching you go, this strong, confident, healthy kid. And I had some of my own big feelings. I thought back to the scary bits. When your mom was pregnant and we found out that she’d been exposed to a virus that could cause us to lose you. When you were a baby and the docs were getting worried that you weren’t gaining weight. I was talking with grandpa about it yesterday. About how parenting is amazing and transformational and also sometimes really scary. I’m so grateful for you and lil and your mom. I’m trying to live in a gratitude place instead of a fear place. But sometimes it’s cause for some feelings.

Thank you for being the incredible kid you are, B. Thank you for all of the big feelings. I love you, and I’m so proud of what a big kid you are now.

Daddy

PS – There’s a charity that we support that works on ending violence against women. This year they asked me to write up some thoughts about Father’s Day and how being a dad of daughters makes me think about those issues. I wrote them something, and I’ve included it here below in case, when you grow up and read these, you’re curious.

When you’re a dad of daughters, people expect that to be why you give. I get it. Dads don’t talk about it a lot, but the depth of the love we feel for our kids is so intense. And to see one of them hurt, a skinned knee or a bruised cheek, it causes this sharp physical pain in us. At least it does in me.

And so people figure, sure, he’s supporting women’s shelters because he has daughters. He can see them in that position. He would want to protect them.

If that’s what drives you to give, that’s so excellent of you. And thank you for stepping up. But it’s not really why I give.

Because the truth is, I can’t see it. I can’t imagine my daughters, grown, and running for their lives. I can’t picture them abused and fearful and trying to protect their own kids with nowhere to go. I can’t see my happy, safe, healthy daughters in that. When I try to, my brain sort of shuts it out.

Unless you have people in your life who have gone through it, I bet yours does, too. You tell yourself a story about how it wouldn’t happen to your daughter. How you would protect her, because that’s what loving dads do. I hope that’s true for her.

But it shouldn’t happen to anyone. Everyone deserves to be safe, and loved, and protected, but not everyone is. I can’t let my brain shut that out. I can’t treat this as someone else’s problem. I need to make this my problem, too.

On father’s day, I’m thinking less about how this gift might help my own girls. I’m thinking more about the conversations I’ll have with them as they grow up. When they learn how awful the world can be. When they look to me and ask what I’ve done to help. I want to have a good answer.


18
Feb 19

Lily: Nine

Hi kid,

It snowed today. Snow on top of two-week-old sheet ice. So we took the two of you sledding. B had her fill after the first run and wanted to go play in the snow-covered playground, but you and I got a couple more in. You’re so much braver than you used to be, going down those hills. I remember when you would insist on riding down with one of us, and when you couldn’t carry the sled back up the hill. I remember you crying when you’d get a face full of snow. Now you have this wonderful, nose-crinkling laugh.

Not that you’ve lost your conservative streak entirely. We went to Mexico earlier this month, and you had a minor meltdown the week before. You were worried that it wouldn’t be as good as the place we’d taken you last year. That we had reached peak vacation that very first time and everything else would be worse. You loved our trip this year, of course, and on the way home we made lists as a family of ways this place was better and ways that one was. We wanted you to see the adventure and variety and possibility in all of it. But mostly, as I write this, I wonder what you’ll think as an adult, reading it. Will you recognize that anxiety, or will it feel like a far away thing? I don’t honestly know which future my money’s on.

A thing I wrote in my last letter is still true: you’re not 8 any more. 9 feels very different. Different emotions, different fashion, different language. And sometimes as your dad I can get swept away in it. It’s so excellent to be able to introduce you to new things, and talk with you about what you think. I love our conversations, and love that there are still things I know about that you find cool. But it’s also tricky because you’re still a kid. Things like a suspenseful video game (even without any violence) can really freak you out. You’re such a big kid until we hit some element where you aren’t. And then I ask myself if we screwed up. If we brought things to you that you weren’t ready for, yet. I hope that we are finding the right balance there, and that we keep finding it. I want to keep being someone who has new things to show you.

Missy and I are doing up our wills. We both plan to be around for a long time, to be clear, but it’s still the right thing to do. And one of the things we talk about a lot is what it would mean for you and B, if we weren’t here. The way you are with each other is the most special thing, Lil. It fills me to bursting. The photos app on my phone is stuffed with pictures of the two of you holding hands while we walk somewhere. I know it will change profoundly as you grow up, but I hope you’ll never lose that closeness. When you were B’s age, you used to want a “Princess Lily” story every night before bed. Now when I put B to bed, she always wants a “Princess Lily and Princess Beatrix” story. You are very much your own kids, but your stories are intertwined.

Missy finally got B down, and you’re out like a light. I’m going to go sit with M and pour some scotch before we go to sleep.

I love you I love you I love you, Lil. Thank you for sometimes finding me cool.

Daddy



11
Dec 18

Beatrix: Three

Hi B,

We took you to the West end tonight for dinner with Lil. You’ve learned the days of the week and everything now, so you knew it was unusual to be seeing Lil on a Tuesday. But you were thrilled. We’re starting to do more of that – restaurants, baby sitters – stuff that was hard for you when you were a baby is getting a little easier.

In the time since my last letter to you we’ve opened our office space. You love it. The training space has a stage, and you and Lil have dance parties. You sit in all the chairs, and ask if you can use your mom’s trampoline. There’s a gym down the street with a play area that you can’t get enough of. Which is great for your mom and me, because when you don’t get out and run in the morning, you go a bit feral. Your mom often spots it before I do: “these kids need to go run around.” By the time we get back from the office/gym double bill, you’re wiped. This is good.

What I know from your sister is that 3 can be a rough age. A lot of transition – when you were two you were still in your crib. By this time next year you’ll be in school. But it’s also a wonderful age – the best age you’ve ever been. You borrow adult-isms in your speech in funny ways. You’ll walk up to me while I’m cooking and say, “Daddy, any progress here?” You are a really funny kid in general, actually. People sometimes think it’s unintentional but your timing is too good, and too consistent. You know you’re funny. And after a meal you’ll say, “Hands up if you want dessert.” You’ll wait, stifling a grin, until we all put our hands up, then you’ll raise your foot. Then you’ll cap it off with, “I raised my foot.” Comedic genius.

Your new language and expressiveness means that you’re also more articulate about missing your sis when she’s not at our place. That part stings. But it’s part of your world, and we know that this is you figuring it out. My hope is that as you get older, you two will have more conversations and contact without needing us to mediate. That you’ll call or skype or text each other. The sometimes-distance doesn’t stop you from fighting like siblings at times, but overall you two are so close and so excellent to each other that it makes my heart hurt. You love your big sis, no surprise there, but she was also so proud to show you off to the kids at school when we picked her up today.

I love you, B. We all do. Happy birthday, my big girl.

Daddy