A Letter to Our Oldest Daughter on Your 10th Birthday

Today you are 10 years old. 

Sometimes I wonder where the time has gone and am amazed at how quickly you’ve grown. It feels like just the other day you started walking or were learning how to ride a bike. Other times I try to remember my life before you were around and it seems almost impossible. 

This past year was another busy one. We took you out of piano and voice lessons so you could play in the school band. With some nudging from your mom, you picked the trombone. You’re the only trombone in the entire prep band. I know some days you hate having to carry around a giant instrument while all the flutes toss theirs in their backpacks, but you’ve gotten really good at it. You set your own practice schedule and do a great job of getting it done. It’s so much easier than trying to get you to practice piano ever was. I think you’ll go back to piano, maybe in the summer, but I love that you found something you enjoy. 

The other day you told me a big kid from the District band saw you and said, “trombone?” You nodded and he said, “good. Stick with it.” You had this proud look on your face like you had shared a small moment with this kid who otherwise would never talk you, a 4th grader. 

When we bought your band t-shirt that says trombone, we all bought similar ones. Mine says trombone dad, and I’m going to wear that thing out. I like to imagine myself in another 8 or nine years showing up to parents weekend at your school in a Wildcat Dad hat and shirt (or wherever you may go to college) and embarrassing you to death.

You’re doing well in school, as always. You get frustrated with math sometimes, but I think you tend to rush through the problems to get it done. When you slow down you’re able to think through them and catch yourself. You still spend a lot of time reading and you not only read often, but you read widely. Even though you’ll find a series or author you like, you still mix in other books and formats. You like comic strip compilations, and Harry Potter, and non-fiction, and historical fiction. You had a lot of questions about that holocaust book, which got a little heavy, but I’m glad you’re reading it.  

Amelia, two days ago there was a school shooting in Texas and the news reported it as the 11th school shooting of the year. It took me reading that statistic a few different times before I realized that your school was one of those first 10. 

I cannot imagine you’ll ever forget being rushed into the boys locker room with your classmates and having to stay there for hours during the lockdown. I cannot imagine what you must have been thinking or feeling during that time and I will forever be grateful for the faculty and staff of your school for their work during the lockdown and in the days following. As difficult as it was for us outside receiving intermittent updates via email and phone, I cannot imagine the difficulty of the position they were thrust into.  

And now, two weeks later, you are back at school and doing well. It doesn’t seem to have phased you much and I’m sure you’re tired of us asking how you’re doing or what you’re thinking. 

Amelia, your mother and I can’t protect to you from everything. We know that. We do our best to make sure you have the tools to face whatever comes your way, but you’re growing up in a world that’s so different. When I was a kid, it never occurred to me that someone might take a gun to school and then use it on himself. And then to think it would happen at your school, while you’re there...it’s an idea that is too tragic and terrifying to comprehend. 

I don’t know what to do about any of this or even know what to say to you some days. You have so many questions about the news and what’s going on in the world, and to be honest, often I don’t have the fortitude to read every thing that is happening. So I simply do what my parents did and tell you the truth. A lot of times that will mean I just don’t know what to say. Amelia, I’m so proud of the person you are and the kindness you share with the world. You’re a beautiful and smart person, but you’re also sensitive, kind, and compassionate. We could not have asked for a better kid. I love you. Happy 10th birthday, mija. 

P.S. Now that you’re 10, can we talk about how breadcrusts aren’t poison? 

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A Letter to Our Oldest Daughter on Your 9th Birthday

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Amelia! Today, you are nine years old! I used to be amazed at how old you were and how big you were getting and now I marvel at your maturity and how much fun you are to hang out with.

Your favorite color is still turquoise, but you also really love pink and purple and can mix patterns like no one else. You love the Hamilton Soundtrack (who doesn’t‽) and can tolerate your sister’s obsession with the Frozen and Moana soundtracks. You’re still taking piano lessons but have also transitioned to voice lessons. It’s a natural fit; you’ve been singing for years.

You love hearing the news and what’s going on in the world. You have a lot of questions about the world and we walk a fine line of shielding you from the harsh realities of the world and giving you the answers you’re looking for. It’s not that we don’t want you to know or that we don’t think you can handle it, but you have a tendency toward worrying, so we try to limit the things you have to worry about if we can.

Just the other day there was a soft lockdown at a high school in Tucson. I mentioned it in passing and you wanted to know why and for how long and if it had been resolved. You weren’t satisfied until I gave you all the available details. Yes, you should do the drills, but try not to let the fear or anxiety control your day to day decisions.

This last year has been so fun and you just make me so proud to be your dad. You love reading. You read so much and widely. Right now you have two Calvin & Hobbes books that you carry from room to room. You’re reading the 4th Harry Potter and the young readers edition of Hidden Figures. Almost all of your Christmas gifts were books and you loved it. You go in to school early so you can read and your teacher started sending you to the 4th grade class for reading. It’s a bit more challenging, but it seems like you don’t really enjoy it much. I can imagine it would be weird to be the 3rd grader in a classroom of 4th graders and you’re only there for one subject.

When we first started listening to the Hamilton cast recording you had so many questions about his life and family that I had to reread the biography just so I could keep up. You just have this insatiable curiosity which I love but sometimes have trouble keeping up with it.

You’re brave and you run really fast. You’re polite, helpful, and generous. But you’re also ridiculously stubborn and would argue with a fence post until it gave up and said, “okay, fine.”

An interesting thing about this past year is how much you want to be big and sometimes you want to be a little kid again. You bought presents for me, your mom, and your sister at your school. You picked them out and afterward you said to me, “I love when people open presents that I got for them!”

So I thought about it for a second and said, “Okay, then that means you’re ready to be Santa.” And I told you about how Santa isn’t really a person, but something we all share to bring happiness and a little bit of magic to people we love. When you’re Santa you can’t tell anyone, but you give gifts or things to someone who needs them. You took it pretty well and you were really excited to help us be Santa for your sister, but later, on Christmas Eve, I think you still wanted to believe.

I tucked you in after you’d fallen asleep and you rolled over and still asleep said, “Did Santa come?”

I said yes, and you smiled and fell back to sleep.

Amelia, your 9th birthday comes at a weird time. There’s a lot of fear and despondency about our future and I don’t know what is going to happen. What I know is there are reasons for hope. It takes a village to raise a child and so know that you are surrounded by wonderful people who have a tremendous capacity for love and compassion and who will help you know what’s right and wrong. Your kindness and thoughtfulness will guide you, but remember to be strong. Stand up for yourself and for others, and remember that so long as you and others are willing to do what is right, there is hope.

And rebellions are built on hope.

Happy birthday, Amelia! I love you, mija.

A Letter to Our Youngest Daughter on Your 3rd Birthday

You are 3 years old today, Violet.

You’ve grown so much over the past year and your personality has really shone through lately. Violet, you are still incredibly sweet and surprisingly considerate for someone your age. You can be stubborn and selfish, to be sure, but you also spend a lot of time making sure others are happy or comfortable. If you see something red you’ll say, “Dad, look, red! You’re favorite kind!” Or you’ll say, “Dad, look, that’s turkwiss (turquoise), Amelia’s favorite kind!” Your mom says her favorite color is rainbow—which I think is a copout, but whatever—so she never really gets a shoutout.

You’re fiercely independent and adventurous. For a while you did this thing where you’d start to do something and to dissuade anyone from stopping you from doing it, you’d say, “don’t worry ‘bout me, okay?”

You’d start climbing on the counter in your bathroom to get the fish food you know you aren’t supposed to touch. “Don’t worry about me, okay, Dad? Don’t worry about me!”

For your second birthday we were visiting family in Portland and we bought you this toy dump truck that made a lot of rumbling noises and drove. You loved it. You still like big trucks and tractors, but you also love motorcycles. You called them monkle-shidles for a while, but just the other day you said, “Mom, look at those motorcycles!” and I realized I needed to write it down or I’d forget.

I love seeing your brain work through things. In the mornings you say, “I waked up,” and when we’re playing catch you say, “I catched it!” You’ve got the rule right, but English is hard; you’ll figure it out soon enough.

Your favorite color is blue, but sometimes you tell me that I have to share red with you and Amelia has to share turquoise with you. You love the music from Frozen. But it’s not just the music. You love to reenact scenes with your dolls and tell us the play-by-play when you’re singing the songs from the movie.

“Dad, here’s where she runs up the stairs!” or “…and then she shoots her with ice!”

What’s amazing is you’ve only seen the movie once or twice and remember it scene for scene. You also love the movie Zootopia. You pronounce it “Topia” with the emphasis on the “pi” (toe-PEE-ah).

You love swimming. You hate wearing any sort of safety device. The other day you caught a grasshopper and were so proud. You just stood there beaming as you told me all about how you caught it and how it lost a leg in the process. You’re a great runner and are still learning how pedals work. I love how much you love being outside. I’m looking forward to taking you hiking without having to carry you, though I think you might have some trouble staying on the trail…

Violet, I’ve been trying to write this for a month and it just keeps getting harder and harder. None of this will make sense to you right now or even a few years from now, but this has been a crazy year and I have no idea what the future holds. You’re Latina. And while I’m very proud of that—and I hope you will be, too—you will be treated differently because of it. I want to tell you that as you get older it won’t matter and the world is a better place, but I don’t know that. I don’t know what’s going to happen. We live in a country that tells you you can be anything you want, and I want to believe that. I want to believe that if you work hard you can be President. I love this country and I know humanity’s better angels will win the day.

Eventually.

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It won’t happen automagically. We’ve got to do it together. So here’s the ask, Violet. Whenever you read this, please remember: be kind. Be compassionate. Demand better. In the face of insurmountable odds, be courageous and live with fortitude and determination. You come from a family of veterans, union organizers, activists, artists, and lots of strong women. Live that legacy. And always remember, we’re all in this together.

I love you, Violet. Happy birthday.

A Letter to Our Oldest Daughter on Your 8th Birthday

How in the world are you already eight years old? We’ve had such a big year! We moved–again. Although, this one should be for good.

Amelia, you’re a great kid. You get upset with your sister sometimes, but that’s understandable. You still love turquoise and making cozy little nests around the house with pillows and blankets. You’re slightly less picky about your foods. You love pizza, but also brussels sprouts and salad. You still hate crust. We’ve been on a couple of longer bike rides together, but you need a bike with more gears. You’ve already said you want a mountain bike before a road bike. You’re playing piano and genuinely seem to enjoy it. I love hearing you practice. You are deliberate and concentrate so hard on getting the notes right. Your teacher has nothing but good things to say about your ability.

I know we’ve moved you around a lot, but that should be over now. I think Arizona agrees with you. You’re mostly an indoor reading kid, but you love hiking and camping. You may not want to go, but when you’re outside, you love it.

Your tía Ang shared something with me the other day and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I don’t think any of it was necessarily new to me, but it helped as a reminder of how important the words we use on a daily basis can build a greater understanding of a larger concept. Something I tell you today may not help you today, or even tomorrow. But if I tell you something today, and next week, and next month maybe it can have a lasting effect on how you see the world.

You said a girl in your class was tickling you and you wanted her to stop. We talked about it with you that night, and all the things came up. It’s your body. If you’re not having fun, they have to stop. If they’re not having fun, you have to stop. Right now, you don’t see where this is going, but you will.

There’s other things I try to tell you that may not get through now, but will in the long run. You came home with straight A’s for the last quarter and got a treat for making the principal’s honor roll. I want you to know I’m proud of you, but I also want you to know that it’s not tied to that. I’m proud of you. I’m proud of you because you WANT to know things. You like getting the right answer because you like learning. I’m proud of you because you’re an awesome kid who just happens to be a genius.

Some of my favorite times with you are sitting on your bed, tucking you in, and talking about things. You are a sensitive kid with big thoughts and I have to sort of remind myself that you’re not MY KID, you’re your own person with your own dreams and feelings and you experience the world in a completely different way. I’m just here to keep you safe and help you be the adult you’re going to be. So the other day when we were talking about the things you worry about, it made my heart ache. When I was a kid, I would get up in the middle of the night looking for a toy I’d misplaced a year or two before. Other times I would lay awake worrying about going to hell or wondering which of my friends were going to hell. And I thought of all of these people I know who have varying degrees of anxiety so I tried to take that burden from you. I said, “hey, let’s let Siri worry about it.”

And so we have a plan. We’re going to let Siri worry about when your library books are due or when to practice piano. Meanwhile, you can worry about being a kid.

A few weeks ago I shaved my beard for a job interview. You came in while I was shaving, looked at the sink, half full of water, and said, “wow, you must not care about California.” It’s times like this, when you’re simultaneously funny and honest, when I know you’re going to be okay.

Happy birthday, Amelia. I love you.

A Letter to Our Youngest Daughter on Your 2nd Birthday

How much you’ve grown!

This last year we moved–again–from Dallas to Arizona. Every box was covered with little drawings of cats because anytime you saw a marker or a pen you’d say, “taaa taaa” until someone drew you a cat. That was 6 months ago and your words are already better. Now, instead of cats, you ask for us to draw a sad baby. Then, once the sad baby is drawn, you ask for a grandpa to come and hold the baby until the baby is happy.

Which reminds me, Violet, you love your grandpas. You LOVE them. You like talking about them and seeing them. Tonight, when grandma FaceTimed with you, you asked to see my dad. That’s all. You just wanted to make sure he was there and okay. When your mom’s dad stayed with us for a week you wanted to sit with him and hang out with him.

I love that you like going to Home Depot with me. You say hi to EVERYONE. And not just a, “hi,” but an aggressive, “Hi. Hi. Hi. Hi. Hi.” You do this until they respond back to you. Then when they try to engage you in conversation you immediately start talking about your sister, “yaya.”

“Yaya on the but.” That’s how you say, “Amelia on the bus.”

You’ve got this hilarious little sense of humor. The other day you stuck a pencil up your nose, turned to your mom and said, “B.Y. boober.” Which translates to “pencil booger.” The sheer simplicity and yet brilliance of a pencil booger gag from a 1 and a half year-old cracks me up. (Note: B.Y. is the catchall phrase for pen/pencil/marker because, I suppose, you write Bs and Ys with them.)

Violet, today you are finally two. For the past six or seven months you’ve been telling everyone who would listen that you are two. And now, it’s actually true. You have learned how to count. You’re accurate to about 4 or 5 and then you just start saying numbers. You’re incredibly polite. So many pleases and thank yous. My mom will be happy to know that you love shutting cabinets that are left open. She will be unhappy to know that you learned “holy crap” from someone. It came out, “hopey crap” but it was pretty clear.

You love cereal. You don’t have a favorite color just yet. And you are a little fish. You would swim all day every day if we let you. You’re fearless in the water. It’s amazing and terrifying to watch. Oh and you love motorcycles and trucks and cars. You get really excited when you see motorcycles and big trucks on the roads. You won’t understand this until you’re older, but I love seeing your enthusiasm for even the simplest things.

The sweetest thing you like doing is checking in with everyone. “Mommy happy?” “Daddy happy?” “Yaya happy?” I like to think your concern says something about who you will be, but right now, I’m just happy you’re happy. Happy birthday.

A Letter to Our Oldest Daughter on Your 7th Birthday

This has been a busy year.

This is the year we are trying unschooling. It’s got pros and cons, but it’s been great getting to spend so much time with you. Your mom works really hard wearing all of the hats she has to wear and I know she really appreciates your help. You’re so good with your little sister. She doesn’t know how to share and gets really frustrated with you and you’re so patient and kind. You always forgive her. She’s been doing a little hair pulling which is when it gets really bad, but you do a great job with her overall.

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This last year you learned to sew, you got a big kid bike, discovered Harry Potter, and you’re making some incredible art.

The other day you and I were driving to the store and you said, “Dad, I can’t wait to go camping again.” It made me so happy. For the past week, I’d been thinking, “I can’t wait for the weather to change so we can go camping.” It made me really happy to hear you felt the same way. I promise you, the first chance we get, we’re hitting the road.

It took me a while to realize that I’m not here to make you into the person I want you to be, but to help you be the person you are. There are so many things about you that I love to learn. You’ve always been pretty cautious and careful. You like to have a plan. That one will probably take some getting used to; your mom and I are pretty…laid back. And I know I say this every year, but you’re so funny. You used to be funny because you’re a kid and you did funny things. Now you’re legitimately funny. You intentionally say funny things. You also have a genuine curiosity and interest in the world. You’re a kid and you have a lot of questions, but you seem to genuinely like to find the answers. You like looking up words and hearing all about a particular subject. We spent a good few minutes at dinner learning about the origin and history of macaroni and cheese.

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You love reading comic books and playing Citadels. You love riding your bike and would live at the park if we let you. You rotate between playing with different dolls and animal play sets and Lego. Nancy Drew has taken a back seat lately to Harry Potter, but you’ll come back. You always do.

When we moved to Dallas last year, you rode up front in the UHaul with me and we had so much fun. You talked and slept and made me play your favorite songs over and over again. We watched a lot of soccer this past year. We were waiting to watch the US-Germany game and you said, “Dad, I hope Germany’s whole team gets red cards.” It was so funny. I keep trying to get you pumped about the Women’s World Cup this year, but I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. But this summer…it’s gonna be on.

When I think of how many times you’ve moved in the seven years of your life, it breaks my heart. I don’t know what’s going to happen this year or next. We will eventually need to move again, but overall you seem like you’ve handled it all pretty well. Amelia, you’re a great kid and you’re so much fun to be with. I hope you had a great birthday.

A Letter to Our Youngest Daughter on Your 1st Birthday

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You were born on one of the snowiest days I can remember Lubbock having. Your mom had been having contractions for a while, and we just couldn’t figure out if it was time. Finally, all of the pieces sort of came together. The midwife and her apprentice were in town. They would check on your mom, then go back to the hotel to wait for the call. It was nice to have that space. But as the weather got worse, I started to worry if they’d make it back the next time. So I called her right after they’d left and said, just stay, it’s time.

Your Grandma Liz was visiting. She and your sister had gone to bed, but it was still early so they were probably reading. The house was nice and warm and the snow had been getting worse as it got later and later. Your mom did such an amazing job. Every now and then Dawn, the midwife, would help her focus or help her if she needed something. But like with your sister, she just sort of did it on her own. So strong and brave.
I caught you and I was the first person to hold you when you were born. You were so tiny. Right when you started crying your grandma brought your sister in. Amelia was so happy to see you.

And now you’re a year old. You’re walking, talking, and feeding yourself. Your favorite song is Itsy Bitsy Spider. You don’t get all the motions. You can do the spider going up the water spout, but your favorite part is the water washing the spider out. You sort of shake your whole body when we get there. You’re so happy to see me when I get home from work–it’s the best part of my day! You say hi to strangers, hug stuffed animals and dolls when they’re given to you, and you give these really slobbery open mouth kisses on the cheek. My favorite thing is when you give hugs. You turn your head, rest it on my shoulder, wrap a chubby arm around my neck and sort of squeeze with your whole body. It’s unbelievably sweet.

You like to pick up books, open the front cover, and put your whole face in it. Sometimes you’ll talk when you do it. I’m hoping this means your sister’s love of books is rubbing off on you.

You’ve also started picking up our phones and scrolling with your little fingers on the screen. Other times you’ll pick it up and say, “hi,” and try FaceTiming with the blank screen. It’s adorable, Violet, but it just means I should spend less time on my phone when I’m with you. I promise to work on that.

You did great camping and when you flew with your mom and your sister. We haven’t found any foods you don’t like…yet. Raspberries are a favorite. You want to do everything your sister is doing and you seem pretty adventurous. The funniest thing you like doing is going down slides backward. You climb the slide, then sit down, lean forward, and ride butt first down. It’s the funniest and most terrifying thing to watch. You’re just a sweet kid. I’m excited that we get to know you.

Happy birthday, Violet.

A Letter to Our Oldest Daughter on Your 6th Birthday

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Every year I am amazed by how much older you are and how much you’ve grown. You are 6. It’s been six years since you were born. Six years! One Saturday this year you woke up early, fed the dog and the cat, then let the dog out all by yourself. Then you poured me a cup of chocolate soymilk, and set out the plates for breakfast. It was just such a big kid thing to do. You were so proud of yourself.

This past year will probably be remembered for several big things. To start, this has been the year of Nancy Drew, Star Wars, and comic books. You’ve sort of become a superfan. The Nancy Drew was a complete accident. We’ve had 3 of those books on our bookshelf for years. I’m guessing they’re Laura’s but I don’t know when or how they showed up. One day we decided to read one, and that was it, you were hooked. You can’t get enough of Nancy, her two friends George and Bess, Nancy’s steady Ned Nickerson (from Emerson College), and Nancy’s dad, the well-known Forest Heights attorney. When we first started you hadn’t really started reading. But now you notice when we skip words, or you’ll ask about words on the page. My favorite part is the effect it’s having on your vocabulary. You like to tell me when something is suspicious and every now and then you’ll use some old-fashioned, slightly out of date language that only Nancy would use. I love it.

When you first watched Star Wars, you couldn’t wait for Return of the Jedi. The whole Darth Vader being Luke’s dad sort of blew your mind. It was all you wanted to talk about! The comic books started with My Little Pony. It’s fun. You’re really interested in a lot of the super hero comics, but we try to keep it fairly age appropriate. I have a feeling the first time you actually read a comic about Harley Quinn it’s going to be a bit of a rude awakening but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Another big part of this year is, unfortunately, I don’t get to see you enough. I’ve been working out of town four to three days out of every week and am usually home the rest of the week. Your mom and I decided this would be best and it absolutely is. Overall, it’s been great for all of us. But it hasn’t been easy. The thing is, you don’t remember the years I spent being a stay at home dad. You’re six now. You’re actually going to remember the year I spent working in a different city. It’ll be hazy. You may not know the full story. You’ll probably have weird memories and think, “was my dad there?” And that is what I’ve always wanted to avoid.

I try to convince myself you’re a tough kid and it’s no big deal, because I’m home on weekends and I get to take you to school and pick you up. But the fact of the matter is, you’re a sensitive kid. You spend a lot of time in your head and I don’t always know what you’re thinking.

One night as I was putting you to bed, you asked me, “Daddy, do you ever clinch your teeth so hard they hurt your jaw because you got mad at yourself for doing something wrong?”

“Yes, I’ve done that.”

You said, “yeah, I’ve done it, too.”

It broke my heart. I didn’t know what to say. I tried to explain that while I’ve done it, it’s not the best way to handle things. Sometimes I just want you to talk to me about what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling and just explain that you’re a kid and you should be worried about playing outside and what snack to have, but it doesn’t work. You think big things.

Early in the school year you talked to me for a long time about a kid at school and how you don’t like how she was treating you. Your mom and I like to let you solve your own problems, but I asked if you wanted your mom and I to talk to your teacher and see about keeping an eye on the situation. You said yes, so I talked to Laura and we planned to talk to your teacher. But when I picked you up at school the next day you had talked to your teacher and taken care of it. You were so proud of yourself. I’ll never forget seeing you beaming because you had resolved your own problem. It was the best outcome and I don’t think we could have planned it any better.

And last, but not least, your sister Violet was born this year. You are such a great big sister. You’ve got you concerns, we can tell. But for the most part, you’re kind and patient. It upsets you when she’s sad, and you genuinely want to help. I know your mom appreciates the help when I’m not home. You love the movie Frozen and the soundtrack. I like that it’s about 2 sisters who start and finish the movie as best friends. I’m glad you like it so much. You’re a great kid and you make me so proud every day.

Happy birthday.

A Letter to Our Youngest Daughter on the Day You were Born

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Today is your birthday.

No, today is the actual day you were born.

Hi, we’re your family.

Laura–you can call her mom–is going to teach you how to draw, and sew, and cook from the heart and lots of other really amazing things. She’s sweet and generous and has a mouth like a sailor. You’ll figure out pretty quickly that there’s grown-up words and kid words and you should stick to kid words. For now, at least. Your mom is going to teach you how to swim, too. Pay attention.

Amelia, your sister, is rad. She is going to read lots of things to you and probably dress you for the first few years of your life. She’s got a 5 year head start, but she’s basically brand new, too. She is hilarious and will probably try to tickle you a lot.

I’m your dad. I don’t really know what I’m doing a lot of the times, but I promise you I am doing my best. I’m going to try to teach you some cool stuff, too. How to ride a bike. How to use a hammer properly. How to bake. Your sister is getting pretty good at that stuff, so I have no doubt you’ll do well, too.

You have some amazing aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, second cousins, great aunts, great uncles…the list goes on and on. (I’ll be honest, you have some aunts and uncles who aren’t technically related.) Every one of them is awesome. And I can’t wait for you to meet them all. You’re going to have so much fun with them. You will learn pretty quickly which ones can get you into trouble and which ones can get you out of it. Figuring it out will be half the fun.

It breaks my heart that you will never have the chance to meet my dad’s parents or his brother. Your great grandmother, Juanita, was amazing. When I was growing up we lived next door to her and your great grandfather, Hermilo. We would have dinner at their house a couple of nights each week and have a big meal together on Sunday afternoons. She never came right out and said so, but I learned that cooking for someone is a very simple way of saying, “I love you.” She would whip up a little snack for me after school and she would take her time and make it just how she knew I wanted it because that’s how she was.

My grandparents also taught me what it meant to have an open door. My grandparents welcomed everyone in at any time of day. They had so many visitors at every hour of the day. Every Thanksgiving we would eat at my grandparents’ house. Every Thanksgiving my dad would tell us about a friend of his at work that didn’t have a family in town so he’d invited them to come eat with us. I don’t remember any of them ever coming, but my first year in college I did the same thing. My friend Daniel came to Thanksgiving at my grandparents’ house and they welcomed him like one of the family. This is how I’d like our house to be.

One time a few of the grandkids accidentally knocked over my uncle Adam’s motorcycle. If anyone found out about it we’d be in so much trouble. Grandma came out and put it right side up for us. I’m not sure if she ever told or if my uncle Adam ever found out about it, but nothing ever happened to us.

Your great grandfather once told me it was bad luck to drive past your own house without stopping. When I mentioned this to my parents a couple of years later, they laughed at me because I should have known he didn’t believe in luck. He was, however, a man of immeasurable faith. When he went in for one of his many heart surgeries, the surgeon carefully explained what the procedure would entail and were very frank about the gravity of the situation. My grandpa said simply, “just do your best.” His faith rested not in the hands of doctors, but with God. It is a faith that I’ve never found. He was funny and smart, kind and caring. He once told me he used to be a better sheet metal worker than your grandpa. One day I’ll ask him what he thinks.

Your grandpa’s brother is a whole different story. I’ve known him my whole life and I still wish I had gotten to know him better. My Tio Junior was a lot of fun. I’ve always thought your uncle Aaron reminded me of him. He might seem quiet but once you get him going it’s a lot of fun. Some of my favorite memories are sitting around playing cards with the family and he is always there. You’ll never really get to know him, but I promise if you listen, you’ll hear some great stories.

I don’t mean to be a downer; we normally try to focus on the positives around here. You have a great family. You’ll soon figure out there’s the family we’re born with and the family we choose, and they’re all important. You have a family name just like your sister. This is who we are. We carry with us the hopes and dreams of every one who has come before us and there’s a responsibility that comes with that.

I’m not going to ask for much from you. Treat everyone with kindness and respect. Try new things. Always try to do the right thing.

One last thing, we are not always going to get along. We’re going to disagree and we will argue. There will be times where you might be afraid to tell me something because you’re worried I’ll get angry or I’ll be disappointed, but no matter what, I love you just as you are and no matter what you do. The rest we’ll figure out.

A Letter to Our Daughter on Your 5th Birthday

I can’t believe you are five years old. I can’t believe how much has happened in the past 12 months.

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Amelia, you are becoming a really sweet and thoughtful little girl. You constantly have more questions than we have answers and your constant energy is exhausting.

You started Pre-K this past August and so far you really seem to be enjoying it. Each day you come home and tell me a little something about your day and what you learned. It’s usually pretty brief and we have to ask for details. You usually tell us that you forgot what you learned because you napped during the day.

You are developing a pretty quick wit and funny little sense of humor. Just yesterday you had climbed into bed with us early in the morning. You were sleeping on the edge of the bed on your mom’s side. When Laura asked you if you had any room you stated matter of factly, “naw, Mom, I’m like a squirrel in a tree over here.” It was a perfect analogy. I’ve told that story more times than I can count in just the last day.

As you get older and you and I get to spend more time together, you’ve started confiding in me about certain things. Nothing big or outrageous, but you seem to like that we have secrets that we don’t tell your mom about.

Your favorite game to play is the one where I pretend not to know you. Every time we go to the grocery store or are in public together, you’ll say, “Dad, can we play that game where you don’t know me and tell me to find my parents.” It’s hilarious.

You’ve stopped saying a lot of the things I loved and we’ll miss them. At some point “candy cans” became “candy canes.” “‘Poon” became “spoon,” though I think that happened a while back. You’ve gotten pickier, if you can believe it. Some of the foods you used to love you hate now. But you’ve recently started eating salad. Tonight as I was cooking dinner you asked what we were having. I told you it was tacos, and asked if you would eat the beans and tacos. You said, “as long as salad’s involved, I’ll eat anything!” It was shocking. I’m pretty sure it’s the red wine vinegar; you’ve always liked that pickled vinegary flavor.

I made you a strawberry cake for your party, like you asked. Mom decorated it with snowpeople, but couldn’t fit the other people, the hockey sticks, and hockey balls you requested. It’s unclear at what point you became half Canadian or how you even heard about hockey, but I like that you’re taking an interest in sports…? This past fall you took your first ballet class. We’ll probably get you into another one this season, but your favorite thing to do these days is yoga. It’s sort of spendy, but you seem to like it so much we’ll keep taking you. The place near by has 2 classes each week just for kids and you love going. I’m glad you like it. I’m glad you’ve found something you really enjoy doing. The ballet class was tough. There was a kid in there who wasn’t very nice to you and it seemed to ruin the whole experience for you. I hope you go back though. I’m hoping you will try soccer this year, too. Also, you love singing. You are constantly singing. You may not know the words or the tune, but you will definitely sing. It reminds me of my grandfather. I’m glad you got that trait from him. I hope it sticks with you.

Amelia, every day you make me proud to be your dad. I absolutely love the time we spend together. I love when you spontaneously tell me you love me from across the room. I love when people compliment me on you, or your behavior. I love that you enjoy school and like your teachers. I love that you asked me today when you could watch Star Wars…

Happy birthday.

A Letter to Our Daughter on Your 3rd Birthday

You were supposed to be born around February 2nd. So January 25th started just like any other day, except that your mom and I slept incredibly well. For the last few weeks of her pregnancy your mom had not slept well. She was uncomfortable and worried about having you. When we woke up that Friday morning we had breakfast together and talked about how we’d both slept deeply and soundly. Your mom felt great. I left for work before 7am, and your mom went back to bed.

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I was working at the public defender’s office then, and was on my way to court at 9am when your mom called to say her water broke. Well, she thought it had broken, but wasn’t sure. I passed off my client files and caught the first bus home. I called Debbie, one of our midwives, and told her what happened. She asked a few questions, most of which I didn’t have answers for then we hung up so she called your mom.


I got home and we waited for Debbie.


When Debbie showed up she took a few tests. She explained to your mom the difference between cramps and contractions and told us to be patient because some mothers have gone as long as 3 or 4 days before the birth. She also said we should go to the birthing center when there’s a consistent pattern of intense contractions for at least an hour.

Your Auntie Caryn came over and the three of us took Porter for a walk together. Your mom had to go pretty slow, and take breaks, but we got home about 1:00pm. Auntie left and when your mom and I got home she got into the bath. Your mom got out of the bath and said, “it’s time to go.”


We grabbed our stuff and hopped into your mom’s old Bronco. It was an awesome, but old truck and it broke. We couldn’t drive to the birthing center. I had to call a cab to pick us up. Your mom was having contractions pretty frequently and wouldn’t let me talk to or touch her. She wanted absolute quiet.


By the time the cab company showed up, and we were finally on our way it was almost 2:00pm.

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When we got to the birthing center there was a couple leaving and they wished us luck. We got to our room and your mom got into the birthing tub pretty quickly. She still didn’t want anyone talking to her or touching her. She was starting to make more and more noise as labor progressed. The midwives were passing notes to each other and whispering to me about what would be happening next. And then your little head started coming out. At first, your head just started peeking out, but then you came right out all at once. You were so excited to be born, you came right out. It was 3:19pm.
You started crying almost as soon as you came out of the water. The whole time your mom was pregnant we didn’t know if you were going to be born a boy or a girl. After you were born your mommy sat in the tub holding you for a few seconds before finally saying, “I have to find out what you are!”


Everything about that day was beautiful. The sun was shining and your mom was fearless. She never doubted her body’s ability to give birth to you and didn’t need anyone’s help. It was a beautiful sight to see, and holding the two of you afterward was the most amazing feeling.

And now you’re 3 years old.

You’re funny, incredibly sweet, and sometimes a little bratty. Last night at dinner you thanked me for making a yummy dinner then told me you loved me when I carried you to bed. You’re picky about what you eat, but like tonight ate the tofu and quinoa like a big kid. You’re excited about cake for your birthday party and love painting. You also promised to start eating the crust on your bread now that you’re three. Your favorite color is turquoise and you love Toy Story 3.

Happy birthday, Mija!

Heroes for My Daughters: Bonnie Tinker

When I first met Bonnie Tinker she was coming out of jail. I was legal observing for a large anti-war march where she and her son had been arrested. Her wife, Sara, waited patiently outside the jail with us for hours while Bonnie and their son were booked on various charges. Police had used unprovoked violence, pepper-spray, rubber bullets, and bean-bag rounds against unarmed activists in a misguided attempt at crowd control.

 Bonnie Tinker being arrested. 

Bonnie Tinker being arrested. 

Late into the night we were getting updates from inside the jail and I would talk to Sara to give her any news we’d received. Finally, in the early morning hours Bonnie and her son were released. I wrote down their names, charges and court dates so we could provide them with attorneys, then made sure all of them had a safe ride home.

I didn’t think of Bonnie again until I volunteered to legal observe an action organized by the Seriously Pissed-Off Grannies. Sara and Bonnie, both in their 60’s, joined other older women (and later, men) to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were arrested for smearing red paint on the outside of military recruiters’ offices and for sitting-in, and obstructing access to the offices. Bonnie and Sara were also arrested for blocking the movement of a tank during a parade here in Portland. Bonnie was holding a sign with a dove which read “War is not the answer.”

Bonnie was a tireless activist in Portland. The Seriously Pissed-Off Grannies staged courageous sit-ins, demonstrations, and protests throughout the last part of the Bush II years and waged a weekly campaign against military recruiters. Bonnie was also founder and director of an organization called Love Makes a Family, which supports “nontraditional” families, specifically those with same-sex parents. At a time when others would presume to define who and what family is, Bonnie stood up and said simply, “love is what makes a family.”

Bonnie Tinker died in July 2009.

She was right-hooked by a truck while riding her bike at a conference in Virginia. She was an abuse survivor and activist who worked every day for peace and justice. Bonnie Tinker is a hero, not because she was larger than life (she wasn’t) or changed the world (for many, she did), but because she touched so many lives, and continues to inspire others to work for change. When I think of the few times I met her, I am still touched by her life, her work, and her passion. I hope my activism can inspire others and honor her memory.

We all have something to share and to contribute to the greater good. The world needs no more inaction. If Bonnie taught me anything, it’s that you must find your passion and live for it every single day with love and honesty.