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.


Lily: Eight and a Half

Hey kiddo,

I’m writing this letter at the dining room table with the back door open. It’s the first night in weeks that it’s been cool enough to let the outside in, and it’s marvellous. Missy and I have wine. It’s been a really good, but really hot, summer.

Okay so first off some updates from my last letter. We did get office space, and you’ve seen it and approved it, which is a relief. We’re still doing demolition on the stuff that was there before, and it will be another month before we can use it, but we’re so excited to see it coming to life. Lil, I can’t even tell you – we feel like it’s going to change so much of what our business can do.

We also got you started with lock picks. So far you’ve got me still holding the tension wrench while you work the rake. But you mutter a little “yesss” when you get it open and that’s honestly the whole point.

You just finished a week of video game design camp and you loved it. Sometimes it’s hard to get updates out of you about school or camp, but every night this week we got reports. “Today we’re working on graphics, tomorrow is debugging but I don’t think our game has any bugs.” On the last day your camp did Demo Day, and M and I thought it was a hoot. We were over the moon proud of you, of course, but having a bunch of 8-11 year olds do demo day sounds strikingly similar to having professional engineers do it in a startup, and that was delightful. Well, it was delightful for us, anyhow.

There’s this thing that I think all parents are trying to figure out right now around digital literacy, and we’re right in there with them. We love that you’re learning about tech, equipping yourself to make it work for you. That’s crucial for us, and has opened so many doors in our lives. But you’re also eight and a half now, and that feels a lot different than eight. You’re still a kid, but you’re not a little kid any more. You sound more and more like a tween every day. And while we haven’t seen you pulled too deeply into the social pressures of online spaces yet, we know it’s coming, and it freaks us out a little. We want you proficient, but insulated. We want you to explore, but stay safe.

I don’t remember where I saw it, but long ago at some formative moment in my life I encountered the phrase, prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child. It seems wise to me and I try to remember it when I worry about things like this. Obviously we still stay close to you, watch for tripping hazards we can see that you can’t, whether you’re online or just running around on the street. But more often these days we’re trying to have conversations with you. To let you figure it out and then check with us, instead of waiting for us to say yes. In my last letter to your sis I talk about raising warriors a lot, or possibly dragons. I think this is what that looks like, but that doesn’t make it less scary.

You’re back with your mom this weekend after a week with us. I miss you. The house always feels so full and right when you’re here. But I got pics from your mom of you sitting on a (stationary) motorbike and you look pretty pleased. I’ll want a full report next time I see you.

Love you kid,


Beatrix: Two and a Half

Hi B,

I’m writing this letter on an airplane and the first thing that strikes me is how rare that is these days. When your sis was your age, I was still at Mozilla, and I was in the air a lot. Her mom and I had already split up, and I scheduled my travel to avoid missing time with her. But it was still pretty hard. Not because I don’t love the travel. I really do. I hope you will, too. But emotions always feel bigger for me on airplanes. Movies affect me more. And I end up writing letters.

I’ll say the things I always say: you’ve grown so much since my last letter. You’re a funny, brave, sensitive, full contact kid. You want to do everything Lil does, be everywhere she is. You have this thing you do where if you’re about to tackle someone or something, you stick out your jaw and bare your teeth like you’re going into battle. It’s excellent.

Your mom and I talk a lot about raising warriors. You’re coming up in a world that can be so harsh, so nasty. I watch a lot of the adults in my life build up tougher skin and draw harder, angrier lines to protect themselves from it. I see myself do it. But if we’re not careful that toughness will cost us our tenderness, B, and those lines will make it harder for us to see each other. When we talk about raising you as warriors, we mean that we want you to have agility and perception, resourcefulness and strength. We want to teach you to defend yourself from all this without letting it harden you. “Warriors” is a hard word because combat is not at all the only tool we want you to have. War is never something to wish for, and even when you win you lose. I guess we just want you to be prepared for anything. I think every parent does.

Every night before bed you want a Beatrix and Lily story. The plot lines have been getting more esoteric as I run out of new stories to tell. There was one story that was just a thinly-veiled recipe for making oatmeal raisin cookies. But you listen, perfectly still, to each one. One of your favourite guest stars is Hyacinth, the dragon. If I ever omit her in a story you make me go back as epilogue and write her in. Hyacinth has purple scales, and big powerful wings, and only breathes fire when it’s to help people who need her. She is magic, and protects the world, and likes watermelon. Maybe your mom and I should say we’re raising dragons.

The plane is landing soon, so here’s a few final fun facts about you. You’re starting preschool soon, and next September you’ll start big kid school. You’re learning to ride a balance bike. And avocado makes you projectile vomit. It’s really something.

I miss you, B. You’ll be asleep by the time I get home tonight, but I’ll be there when you wake up tomorrow. I love you.


Lily: Eight

Hi sweets,

I miss you. A few weeks ago we all went to Mexico. You had a blast and so did we, but after a week of uninterrupted time together, it’s always hard to go back to the some-days-on, some-days-off schedule we have. B, who has even less patience, feels it every time you’re away, and still shouts your name every time the doorbell rings.

I was talking to a friend the other day who’s going through a divorce, and they asked about it. About how it felt to move out, to not be in the house your kid lives in half the time. Your mom and I split earlier than many folks our age, so I’ve answered that question for a lot of friends over the years. My answer is always the same: it’s awful. It’s awful and it doesn’t really ever stop being awful. That doesn’t mean it can’t also be the right call — I know it was for us. And I know that you have two amazing and loving homes and I am so happy with how comfortable you are in each of them. How much each of them is really yours. But I still feel the gaps so deeply, even years later, and wouldn’t wish it on any parent.

I’m not moping, though. We see each other a lot and I love that time. The other day we were talking about crushes, over pizza. You explained that a crush is “when you love someone so much but they don’t love you back or maybe even know.” I asked if you’d ever had a crush. (You have.) You said no. (You’re incorrect.) But, you said, “even though I’ve never had a crush I think some people have had crushes on me.” Well I wouldn’t know about that, kiddo, but it’s clear to me already that 8 is not the same as 7 1/2.

Speaking of 7 1/2, since my last letter to you a lot has changed with our business. The book came out, and became a best seller. You don’t care about book sales, but you find the title hilarious and keep asking to see it again and then giggling. Swears are a hot topic in the house right now and we’re talking a lot about how to use words carefully and why words can upset some people more than others.

Melissa and I love the work we’re doing for RSG. We get such an energy off of it, and off the impact we have. We truly feel like we’re making work better, Lil, and that’s exactly what we wanted to do. We’re starting to make offers on office space and I hope that my next letter will be able to treat that as a done deal.

Speaking of next letters, I’ve been thinking about these. The first kids in your class are starting to get their own smartphones. In a few years I imagine the tide will have fully engulfed your peer group, and I don’t want these letters to be a thing that someone uses to tease you. Right now my plan is to keep writing them until you’re 10, and then get your opinion about what to do with them. I didn’t know, when I started writing them, whether I’d keep it up or not. But every 6 months as your birthday (or half-birthday) comes up and I think about it, I can’t imagine not writing one. I imagine 10 will feel that way, too.

For your 8th birthday you asked about learning to program, and learning to pick locks. I’m gonna go figure out whether it’s legal to buy lockpicks in Ontario or whether we need to first teach you how to make your own. In a few days you’re back at our place. I’m really looking forward to it.

Love you kid,


Beatrix: Two

Hi B,

It’s Monday night and the house smells like brisket. Your mom and I have started making more hibernation food. We had a long fall but it took a sharp turn a week ago, and right now it’s dumping down snow. You don’t seem to mind. We asked you this morning what you wanted for your birthday and you said, “pizza and cupcake” so that’s what you got. Your version of hibernation food, I guess.

You’re a full contact kid, B. You’re gigantic, which helps, but in the time since my last letter to you, you’ve developed this new physicality and confidence. It’s the best. You move furniture to create makeshift ladders. When I threaten to tickle you, you say “no!” and then, instead of fleeing, you set your shoulder and run right at me.

2017 has been a hard year for the world. Your mom and I quit our jobs to build the business because we saw too many ugly things happen. We saw people being hurt and we felt like we had to do something about it. We work with leaders to help them understand what their job is, how they can make their world better and fairer and more thoughtful. We help them take accountability for what happens in it. Often at night, after you’re asleep, your mom and I will sit in the living room with a drink, and check in. Are we doing the work we want to be doing? Can we see the impact? Do we have the energy to do more? So far, the answer is always yes. Your mom and I are working hard, but we think we’re doing stuff that matters.

This year has beaten a lot of people up, but it’s galvanized many of us, too. Before 2017, I think smart people could congratulate themselves for seeing that the world is not black and white, it’s full of grey. That’s true, B, and important to remember. But you can lose yourself in the grey. You can get comfortable not having a point of view, not taking sides. There are things worth fighting for and sides worth taking, Beatrix. I hope you’ll be proud of the sides we take and the fights we choose. I hope that, by the time you read this, it’ll feel like those fights are far away and long-settled. And I hope that I’m around to see what issues you take up as your own. Punch up, not down, B. The world we want doesn’t emerge from the grey on its own.

I should go. Your mom is pouring wine and I’ve been re-reading this letter over and over, as I always do. I don’t think you’ll be in your crib much longer. You’re too strong, too tall, and too independent to let it hold you in. Your favourite foods are grapes, rice, cauliflower, brisket, and soup. You put ice cubes in your milk for some reason. Last week you learned to say, “I love you.” And every time you hear the door, you run up excited in case it’s Lily.

Love you, B. Happy birthday.


Lily: Seven and a Half

Hi Lil,

It’s late. You’re asleep and I’m down in the basement writing this before the news comes on. We’re not usually a TV house, but today I was part of a panel discussion on CBC and you came with me and toured the studio and impressed the adults the way you always do. Your only break from perfect studio decorum was to wave madly at me once when I looked over at you during filming. So we’ll watch and see if we can spot that moment. You’ve asked us to show you the video tomorrow.

The discussion was about a guy who wrote a memo that I hope will be old, forgotten news by the time you read these letters. A guy who got fired for asking whether maybe we should debate, yet again, whether women might just not be suited to engineering jobs. You’re seven and a half and you already roll your eyes at it. We got there early and were sitting in a coffee shop talking about it, and I asked why you thought he got fired. You thought about it for a second and said, “Well, you’ll probably have a more complicated answer than me, but I think he got fired because he made the women in his company feel tired and beaten up and that’s not something you should do.” You’re seven and a half and you are amazing.

Your summer is a succession of day camps. Swim camp, sports camp, drama camp. They all blend together, and mostly accomplish the goal of burning up some of your energy. It’s a mix of kids from all over, and you come back with new mannerisms and desires and personalities that you’re trying on. We don’t know what kind of adult you’ll be yet, but we see glimpses of what kind of teen you might be. The beginnings of a pre-tween. Your music taste and currency has already started to outpace ours.

Last night as you were going to sleep we were talking about introverts and extroverts. I told you that I’m introvert but people don’t always guess that. You said, “Is that because you can be friendly and happy in big groups, but it’s not your favourite thing?” I said yes. You said, “That’s how I am, too. I can have fun with lots of friends, but afterwards I feel tired out. And thanksgiving, with all those people, that’s the worst!” I told you I sometimes hide in the bathroom. Sorry kiddo, you’re 3 for 3 on introvert parents by my math. But you’re learning how to cope, and anyhow some of my favourite people also hide in the bathroom.

For context, when you’re reading this letter and trying to place it: since my last letter to you we’ve quit our jobs and started the new company. You have business cards that say “Junior Partner” because your parents are nerds. Our book comes out in a few months and is just going through final layout edits and advance copies. B is a toddler, and still mad for you above all else. Your favourite food is crêpes, and you put maple syrup on your ice cream like your dad.

You’ve decided you’re embarrassed when I say I love you at camp drop off so I whisper it now.

(I love you)


Beatrix: One and a Half

Hi B,

It’s hot today. Much hotter than it was in my last letter to you. We took you out for a morning walk because we knew that, by afternoon, none of us would want to move. Walks are a hit for you, because walks inevitably involve dogs. You are pro-dog. Loudly, enthusiastically pro-dog. You point at them, and tell them that they are a dog. You’re very excited about this. And when they leave, you immediately start asking for more. “Mo… mo… mooare!” This is true of birds and flowers, too, but dogs reign supreme.

You’re talking a lot more now. Still single words, and only your parents really understand them, but there are dozens. Almost all of them are food related, surprising no one. You know milk, water, banana, yogurt, and baguette. You know books, blocks, dog, cat, and bunny. You roar when you see pictures of lions, tigers, or flamingos (??).

You also know, “no.” You know that there’s a set of things you’re not supposed to do. Things like throwing your milk cup on the floor. So you’ll hold it out to the side, make eye contact with us, hurl it at the ground and then solemnly say, “Noooooo.”

When we got in from our walk, your cheeks were red. I don’t think you got a sunburn, I think you were just warm, but it reminded me of a pretty awful time at the very beginning of you. Back in May of 2015, before you were born, when you were about 2 months along, your mom was exposed to parvovirus. It’s a nothing disease – kids often get it in school and don’t even notice. It gives you red cheeks for a few days (they call it “slap cheek”) and then goes away. No big deal. Except that when a pregnant mom gets it, there’s something like a 1 in 20 chance that the baby does. And if the baby catches it, the baby dies. No maybes, no dramatic interventions. Heads or tails.

Unless and until you have your own kids, B, I don’t really think I can explain to you how that feels. To know that either everything is fine or we’re about to lose you and there’s nothing we can do but sit and see which universe we’re in. Just sit. And wait. Every day for 8 weeks. Waiting for something to happen and hoping that nothing does.

I sat there watching you today, with those pink cheeks fading as you cooled off. Toddling back and forth, reading books to yourself, trying to get into the snack cupboard. You don’t know that any of this ever happened. But I never forget how it felt to almost not have you in our lives at all.

Having you in our life is amazing, Bix. You’re like a little Dionysus. Everyone should always be eating and drinking and having a nice time, as far as you’re concerned. Especially Lily (“yi-yi”) and especially, especially dogs. You’re a delight.

Love you, B. Next week you move to the toddler room at daycare. That’s how quickly time flies.


Lily: Seven

Hi kiddo,

We spent a few hours this weekend gluing 100 sunflower seeds onto a piece of paper for a school project. Since my last letter to you, you’ve started grade 1. Your teacher doesn’t believe in homework for grade 1 kids, and I agree, but we do have these occasional projects. It makes me think about all the clichés of parents doing their kid’s science fair projects. Silly and inconsequential as it is, I found myself coming along behind you and straightening out sunflower seeds that you had knocked off of their glue blobs. You watched me do it at one point, and then looked up at me and declared, “We are a good team.”

You broke your arm a few months ago. You did it in the most normal way, falling off the monkey bars. You didn’t wail, you just went and sat quietly until a teacher asked you if you were okay. It’s hard to express to you how it feels as a parent to see you hurt. I know that you’ll be fine. Kids do this. It’s probably even beneficial for you. But there’s this intense urgency to those moments. I do a pretty good job of keeping calm in times of high stress, but that day was a hard one to stay calm through. Your mom was taking you to get an x-ray and even though she’s perfectly capable of doing it herself, I felt like I needed to be there. Melissa heard it in my voice over the phone, and basically ordered me to go. You’re fine now, of course. But for the photos you might not even remember it in a few years. But I will.

Because your sister is now more than a year old, we felt like it was safe to start traveling again, so two weeks ago we all went down to Mexico. Travel is such an important part of our life, and it makes Melissa and me so happy to share it with you. You’re learning to be a pro traveler from the start. Mexico was amazing, there was great programming for you and B, and a lovely atmosphere overall. You’re such a water kid — you went swimming at least 3 times a day. And for a kid who doesn’t eat much, you were extremely impressed with the buffet. It will take a few years before B can handle the more adventurous trips, but seeing you two explore together, and the way you take care of her, is just lovely.

But the vacation didn’t really take us away from the fact that the world is in a sort of messed up place, Lil. While we fundraised on hotel wifi, your social justice instincts were still going strong, too. You ask a lot of questions about why mean people get elected, and why someone doesn’t tell them that they’re not being fair. We try to frame our answers in terms of participation — that it is important to have a point of view, and to express it, and to stand up for what’s right. We try to do that in our own writing about the stuff we know. But we’re still looking for ways to do more that feel true to who we are.

Your world is pretty full right now. You have skating, karate, swimming, and choir. Your choir teacher clearly has fascinating taste. We’ll be making breakfast and you’ll start humming Supertramp, or Aerosmith. Leonard Cohen, or Bahamas. Music is another thing that is important to all your parents, and that all of us love to see taking root in you. Even if it does mean hours of, “Dream on, dream on, dream until your dreams come troooooooooo” on repeat.

I love you, Lil.


Beatrix: 1 Year Old

d81_8626Hiya Bix,

You’re napping right now as I write this. When you wake up, it’ll be lunch time. You are a champion eater, ravenous and loud about it. You’ve gone from a really little kid to a giant in the 6 months since my last letter.

We have a video monitor to spy on you while you sleep. The camera’s cheap, the picture is grainy black and white, and I love it. Right now you are in downward baby pose, one of your favourites.

The world is in a strange place right now, B. I don’t really know what to say about it, or how different it will be by the time you’re old enough to read these things. When I used to read about awful things happening in history I always had trouble relating. I couldn’t understand why the people in those times didn’t do more to resist. Right now there are some awful things happening and it feels like we’re on the precipice of some more, really awful things that are about to.

Your mom and I talk a lot about what we want to do about it. How we can make the kind of change we want in the world, and resist the kind of change we don’t. As an adult, I think you’ll realize that your mom and I are pragmatists. We get things done. It’s how we succeed at work and it’s how we run our life. We try not to spend too much time on moralizing or polarizing. Life, and the people that fill it, are full of nuance, Bix. It’s never the right call to weaponize those disagreements, and turn others into villains. But 2016 has been the kind of year that can radicalize a person. And so I have trouble really predicting what kind of parents you’ll think you have. But I want you to know that we’re paying attention. That we care. And that we’re trying to figure out how to make the world better.

Heavy stuff, I know. But none of it matters to you, today. Today, you have figured out standing, and climbing stairs, and you’re one step away from walking. Your big sister is the most important person in your world, followed by your mom, then Adele the pig, then Anne at daycare, and then, I think, me.

It’s okay. I don’t mind. I get to put you to bed every night. You’ve settled on Down to the River to Pray as your lullaby, just like your sister did. We rock in the chair. I shush, and you grab at my face in the dark. Then you snuggle in for a minute and sigh before moving to your crib. Where you immediately find Adele.

You’re waking up from your nap. Gotta run, B. I love you. Happy Birthday.



Six and a Half

Hi sweets,

In the six months since my last letter to you, one thing has become abundantly clear: You are a kind and patient and amazing big sister for Beatrix. You make her laugh. Last weekend you were speaking in a low, gravelly voice to make her giggle and ever since then she’s been growling at her stuffed animals. She loves you most of all, and watching the two of you together is wonderful.

The big conversations I mentioned in my last note continue to be ones you want to have. In the last month we’ve had conversations about why people bully, why some people are poor, and whether God is real or just a story. Heavy stuff, but you approach it all in a really open and curious way. Sometimes there will be a lull in the conversation and then you’ll say, “Daddy, can you tell me more things about why people smoke?” I try to talk to you about this stuff as honestly as possible, and love watching you come to your own conclusions. I hope we’ll have many more conversations like these as you grow up — they’re my favourite.

About a month ago (when you were supposed to be sleeping, naturally) we were talking about superpowers. You told me that you think one of your superpowers is that you know how other people are feeling. That one hit me in the gut a little bit. I know that superpower well, and it’s a powerful one. But it’s a hard one, too. And harder still when you don’t realize that other people don’t have it, and that expecting them to read you like you can read them isn’t really fair. We’ll talk more about that one, I’m sure. And then you asked,

“Daddy, am I smart?”

Here’s the deal, kid: your mom, your step mom, and I – we all think you’re awfully smart. We try to focus our praise more on the times when you when you work hard, when you’re creative, when you struggle through something and figure it out. I think you don’t want for praise. But we try not to lean too heavily on the fact that you have a natural intelligence — I knew that I was smart, growing up, and it can teach you to take the easy path. You can end up coasting on your smarts instead of learning how to work hard. But yes, in these letters that you won’t read until you’re older, and frequently enough in your day to day that I hope you never doubt it: yeah, you’re really a very smart kid. It’s a superpower too, for sure, and I’m happy that you have it, but it’s also not without its pitfalls.

The summer’s wrapping up and this year we’ve had a couple weeks where you were at our place full time. They’ve been so great. I love having you around on weeknights and driving you to camp in the mornings. I get hung up a lot on making sure you don’t feel like a visitor in our house, that it feels like another home to you. I think we do a good job there, but having the longer stretches with you really helps. My hope is that, as an adult, you read this letter and roll your eyes because of course it always felt that way.

I think, for most parents, there is a weird kind of hope that you are taken for granted by your kids. That they just feel safe to assume you’ll always be there. Maybe extra much for parents who are only with you some of the time, I don’t know.

You have this expression you picked up at school, where you talk about how important it is to help “fill other people’s buckets.” You fill my bucket, kiddo. I love you,