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Happy 9th Birthday Buddy – Razflections

Happy 9th Birthday Buddy


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This is my annual birthday post for Levi; if you’re interested, the prior birthday posts are here:  Happy 8th Birthday BuddyHappy 7th Birthday BuddyHappy 6th Birthday BuddyHappy 5th Birthday Buddy, and Happy 4th Birthday Buddy.

Dear Levi,

As I’m writing to you every year I never have anything planned to say. I used to give a lot of talks to audiences and often had a mental archive of anecdotes or stories lined up that I’d pull from, either coordinated in advance or ready to use spontaneously. With something like your annual birthday, I always think to myself “This year I’ll totally have something lined up to share with Levi for his birthday!”

But it never happens, and today is no exception.

I’m never ready for this day, and when it finally arrives I always want something magical to happen. I’m not sure what, but it never quite plays out like I envision or hope. The only real message that I really want to get to you is that I love you. And we miss you. There’s probably a lot in my life that I hope you don’t see, but this is one of those moments where I hope you get to look down and read my annual birthday letter to you. So, here’s a quick update, followed by a story.

Mom did homeschooling for Royce and Zoe all the way up to this year, then we decided to put the kids into school–for a variety of reasons–and they both seem to be doing well. I’m super appreciative of her hard work over many years to teach RoZo. She thinks about you all the time, and I remember just how heartbroken she was–we both were–ten years ago today.

Royce is doing great, she made the middle school soccer team as a 6th grader which was a really big deal! Few kids made it at all, and even fewer 6th graders. She’s such a sweet kid, and is the one who always prays before every meal (even when I sometimes skip it), always organized and on time, never misses a homework assignment (her grades are awesome!) and always less then thrilled when things don’t go according to plan–she likes structure and predictability, and might–MIGHT–have a slight tendency to worry at times. :) Which would make her the big sister that would always be watching out for your every move, and would keep you from ever getting in trouble. She’s beautiful, so responsible and trustworthy, and so incredibly passionate–you would be so proud to have her as a big sister.

Zoe is doing fantastic and is equally beautiful. She’s going to a different school than Royce and has made so much progress–we’re really thrilled. She loves creative stuff, entrepreneurial passions, and cooking shows as her go-to activities. She could watch cooking shows on a Saturday for hours on end without pause–and sometimes does. And is the only ten year old kid I’ve ever met who would look at me after tasting a dish I made and would say “Dad, I think this needs a little bit of caper juice, a dash of garlic salt, and a squeeze of fresh lemon” only to be followed minutes later while preparing some vegetables with an off the cuff statement and say to me “You know Dad, Jimmy Fallon is definitely one of my favorite comedians–next to Ellen Degeneris.”

Zoe’s pretty hysterical, and would be the bigger sister saying “Go for it!” while Royce would be saying “Levi, I really don’t think this is a good idea…” You’d have one sister with expertise on how to get you into trouble, and the other with expertise on how to keep you–or get you–out of it.

So here’s my one and only story for you this year: IMG_0999

A few months ago all of us went away for a weekend to try to get a retreat from the chaos of work and everyday life. One night whilst sitting outside around a fire pit we were talking about a particular issue which escalated and ended in an argument amongst the four of us, though mostly it was just me, Royce, and mom. The argument got pretty intense, and while I don’t think it was altogether different than some arguments and issues that most families deal with, it was one of the more intense and frustrating moments we’ve had in the last year.

Zoe was walking around the outdoor fire pit, and along the edge of the pool, somewhat aimlessly. I didn’t even think she was listening. She was kicking the soccer ball on her knee, dropping it, running off to get it, seemingly completely disengaged and disinterested during this 20-minutes. Finally, when no progress was being made, and the intensity of the argument kept escalating, she decided to jump in.

Zoe turned around to all of us and opened her arms and interjected with a quiet, and gentle voice saying “Okay everyone? Please stop. For a minute. Just stop. Can I say something?”

Surprised, we all turned to her and didn’t say a word. We were all kind of shocked she interjected. Zoe’s fiercely independent, wildly creative, witty as all get out–but rarely interjects and generally doesn’t editorialize. So as we all looked at her she decided to deal with me first and walked over, placed her little hands on top of my big hands, and looked in my eyes and continued.

“Dad, I know you’re stressed out. I know it, and I can feel it.” As she’s talking involuntary tears start streaming down her face, but she didn’t let her emotions phase her for a second and she barely paused for half a second.

So she kept going. “Dad, sometimes when you get home from work and you’re stressed out and you still have tons more work to do, don’t put the stress on other people. And Dad, I know why you do this…Because I do it too. I go to school, and then I have a bad day. I come home, and I’m upset and tense and I get frustrated with people. Or I want to blame someone, or I point the finger and I get angry at people. And then it creates tension. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with you. Or me. Everybody does it. It’s part of being a human. We all do it.”

“So Dad, I want you to be happy. I want you to come home happy. I want you to leave home happy. And I know it’s hard, because you work so hard. I worry that you are always working, and I am afraid someday all the work will beat you down. But then, I know you usually love it and do a good job. So they give you more responsibilities. You get bigger jobs and you run more companies. But then it keeps getting harder and harder, and more stressful.”

“Now you’re working so long and gone so much. And I know it’s going to get better. I know you have done lots of start-ups, and that they always get better and things work out. And when it gets better I know you’ll make more money, you’ll have more people to help out, you won’t have to work so much, and things will be easier. But Dad, even though I know it’s going to get better…I really just worry if it’s going to get better fast enough.”

At this point tears are pouring down her face, not just one or two, but a constant stream. She kept going, without flinching or pausing to even recognize her emotions, and with a steady voice while looking in my eyes continued. ”Dad, I believe everything starts in the home. If we can make everything good in the home, then everything else will be great. Work will be great. Your workouts and running will be great. Our time off will be great. Dad, I really mean it. I believe everything starts in the home.”

Then she paused for the first time, and took a breath and raised her expressive eyebrows and said emphatically “And Dad, I KNOW they say that on all the cooking shows. But I really believe it’s true.”

Levi feetOf all my moments with our kids, this one will be among the most memorable. Partly because there was a level of gravitas to the conversation that exceeded anything which I’d ever experienced with her. And partly because it was such an obvious testament to what kids can teach you.

Which pretty much is a metaphor for how I feel about you. I don’t fully recognize, and in exactly what ways, but I know you’ve had this amazing impact on all of us in manners that I can’t fully express or even begin to understand.

Am I bummed you’re not here? Yeah, beyond words. If I could, I’d change it in a heartbeat. But also in my heart, I’d know that wouldn’t be the right thing. I’m certain and trusting that the right thing happened. And that as part of this, I’m still learning something throughout it.

Even if I don’t understand it. Even if I don’t like it.

Levi, my friend…I love you. We all do. No matter what.

Happy 9th Birthday.

Love,

~Dad

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