Dear Henry

Henry Nov 2014

Oh what a joy it’s been to watch you grow and learn. Your smile melts our hearts and your sweet disposition, combined with your undeniable ‘joie de vivre’, are traits that compose the very best of humanity. So, Henry, I have no doubts that you will continue to be the light of our lives for decades yet to come.

And with that in mind, I’ve got a few thoughts I’d like to pass along to you now, while I have the time to fully consider and express them. I know you’re only turning three years old this week, and that your primary focus is really Hot Wheels, Brio’s and watching Lightning McQueen on your iPad. Okay, to be fair, I know you also LOVE your bedtime stories, playing outdoors on your big boy bike that has no pedals, kicking the soccer ball, playing in the rain puddles,  playing in the sandbox, and on the swings. I know how much you enjoy anything that involves engine noises and racing, tickling and laughter. I may have left a few things out that you love but the point is: you’re three years old, so I don’t expect this letter to resonate with you just quite yet.

Realistically, I should have plenty of years ahead to share these things with you. But if I’ve learned nothing else in these past months, I know for a fact that ‘plenty of time’ isn’t always a sure bet.  But I won’t expect you to put down your Brio’s, set aside your Hot Wheels, quiet the engines, and take a listen because this is going to be well beyond your level of comprehension. Hopefully Mommy and Daddy will let you take a listen in about five (maybe even ten) more years.  That will depend upon you, I suppose.

So, Henry, here we go:

First, and foremost, you have two parents who truly adore you. So, you are already blessed in this life. And I know for a fact that they both love you to the moon and back. Sure, you may challenge them every now and again because… well, after all, being TWO is never easy on anyone. But make no mistake about it: you’ve got their hearts forever.

As you grow up, whether you have younger siblings to join you in the years ahead or not, I hope that your very sweet nature will never change, and that you will always show your Mom and Dad the love, respect and kindness that they deserve. You might be raising your eyebrows at this, but Henry, trust me when I tell you that far too many of your peers will be heading down the path to self-righteous stupidity…some might refer to it as ‘mindful stupidity’…a phrase I heard recently by a television celebrity when describing generically those who live in Marin County. You may well live in Marin County your entire life, so Henry, if you do…please be brave enough to swim against the tide of mindful stupidity. Use your common sense and your well learned good manners to guide you in this life. I know you have those traits because I know who your parents are.

Don’t become part of the herd mentality just to keep pace with your peers. Don’t become someone you aren’t, just to be included in the cool crowd. When the herd mentality takes over, one slight upheaval can cause them to run directly off a cliff, endangering not only themselves, but everyone in their wake. Don’t fall into that trap. Beware of peer pressures. Don’t be smart by becoming stupid. Just because the cool kids want to include you doesn’t mean the cool kids have your best interests at heart. Choose your friends wisely and learn how to be a loyal and true friend in return. Learn how to laugh and have fun without it being at the expense of someone else. And learn how to laugh at yourself along the way, because otherwise, it’s a long grab to steady your boat.

Don’t let anger find a permanent landing pad on your back. And don’t let anger about anything consume you. Frustration is not anger. Frustration can appear to be anger, but it won’t sit on your shoulder like an ink stain you can’t remove. True anger will eat away at your overall happiness, until the delightful, bright and happy little person you were born into is all but vanished. I only bring up anger because I see angry young people every day, in the news, in our own communities. They are angry about everything and they let the world know about it through their often violent outbursts and poor decisions that not only get them in trouble, but they drag along all the other sheep who cling to anger themselves.

If you find you’ve got your brain in a funk, talk to someone. If you’re sad, if you’re depressed, if you’re uncertain, if you’re confused. Talk to someone. By the way, your parents are great listeners. And, I might add, your grandparents are great listeners. Take our concerns and caring to heart. We all love you and will guide you with a kind and gentle hand always. Unless you screw up big time…then you’ll need to be mindful, because kindness should not be confused with weakness.

Personally, when I was an active Mom raising your Dad and his siblings, I subscribed to a two-step parenting playbook. I might be old now, but the playbook is timeless. It’s pretty simple, really, and I’m pretty sure your Dad is fully aware, and your Mom has likely heard these pearls of wisdom from me once or twice in the past year or so as well.  I can’t say for sure whether or not they’ll use the same playbook I did, but I’ll share it with you just the same:

Rule #1: Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

Rule #2: Save the confrontations for the really important issues.

Which means, in a nutshell, that Mom and Dad may occasionally need to lose their temper to get a message across to you, but knowing you as I do now, I suspect the odds of that happening will be pretty slim overall.

Work hard, Henry, so that you can stand proud of your own personal accomplishments in this lifetime. Sure, Mom and Dad will be right there to help you along the way, but don’t just be a taker. Accept help when you need it, but be sure to be a giver too. Those things we accomplish by our own initiatives hold the key to self-esteem. And self-esteem is the key to being your own best friend. And being your own best friend, Henry, is the key to learning how to navigate this very complicated world we live in.

Be accepting of mistakes, those made by others and those you’ll make yourself. Be kind to yourself and be aware that failure can be the best teacher of all. Learn from your past mistakes, so that when success comes, you’ll truly understand accomplishment.  And learn how to celebrate the joys of life. Celebrate not with mindful stupidity, but with mindful revelry. Have fun with your friends, create memories of your youth that will endure the years with good warm feelings as you reflect back.

And, be generous of your time for others. Volunteer. At home, at school, in life. Step up, be a helper, be an example of kindness, of willingness, of strength. Be the guy that others admire for all the right reasons.

And, finally, as you navigate your youthful years and those well beyond, I hope you cling to the certainty of FAMILY. Because we all have your back, Henry. That you can count on.

Three is a wonderful age to be. It’s older than two and it’s younger than four: that means you’re still young enough to not have a single care in the world, and you’re old enough to already care about those you love.   So you see? You are well on your way to a life well lived.

 With love that will linger forever,

Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 10.21.29 PM

Parenting: It’s a Two-Step Playbook

Picture 1“What’s the best advice you can give me?”  This was the question I was asked recently about the subject of parenting.

I don’t know Anthony well.  He’s a member of the wealth management team that handles the investments for one of my clients.  We speak by phone once or twice a year to review tax related details as he prepares the financials for filing.

The conversation always starts with pleasantries before we get to the nitty gritty, and this one started out with me asking if he was enjoying his summer so far.  With a bit of a sigh, he said he was trying to keep things steady at home.  He explained that it’s been a challenge which continues to grow daily for he and his wife.  It seems that their three kids, now on summer break from school,  are pushing the parental envelope with  teenage hormones and sibling antics that have ramped up to the point of exasperation.

‘How old is your oldest?” I asked.

‘Fifteen…a boy” he replied. “They’re all three years apart in age”.

“Hang in there” I told him.  “I also have three children, all grown up now, and I can tell you there is a light at the end of the tunnel”.  He asked about their ages, and what each one was doing now.  And then he asked for  the ‘best’ advice I could offer.

“Ease off on the small stuff, and save the confrontations for the really important issues”, I told him.   We talked briefly about teen behavior: the moodiness and volatility.  And we also talked about the never-ending sibling rivalry…when they weren’t fighting amongst each other, they were up to stupid antics in solidarity.

Listening to other parents talk about their trials and tribulations is so often like a walk down memory lane…their experiences are all so familiar, with occasional variation along the way.  My husband traveled so much during the years our children were growing, that I felt like a single parent raising three children on my own much of the time. He’d be gone Monday through Friday, sometimes two or more weeks out of every month.  One year, he spent nine straight months commuting from our home in Colorado to Dallas, Texas.

I’ve been thinking about my advice to Anthony.  And although I feel my ‘best’ advice was exactly what I offered, I think there is a second part to that.  It’s really a two-step playbook:

STEP ONE:  Ease off on the small stuff and save the confrontations for the really important issues.

STEP TWO:  Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

In order for Step One to be effective, Step Two is crucial.  And, maybe Step Two should really BE Step One.

The entire brief conversation about parenting now has me reflecting back on those challenging years.  There are a multitude of memories that come to mind.  Oh, the stories I could share…there truly are scores of ’em.  Lots are hilariously funny now, though I sure couldn’t find the humor at the time.

But here we are, all these years later.  My husband and I couldn’t be prouder of the adults our children have become.  I tried my best to parent with a firm guidance, but the love for my children trumped all. I made mistakes along the way, I’m sure.  Personally, I can’t think of a one, but I’m guessing the kids could tell you some.  All three of them recently blew me away when they individually wrote messages as a tribute to my milestone birthday which was just a short month ago. In part, they read:

  • What I love about Mom… is that she sets an example as to how to persevere when you think you can’t do it, how to be yourself when you’re told to conform, how to be strong when you feel weak, how to be independent when you think you can’t do it alone, how to coexist when you think you can’t do it together, how to be confident when you’re not sure, how to speak up when something needs to be said, and how to set the example for others when nobody else has. HOW TO BE A REAL GOOD, HONEST INDIVIDUAL.
  • What I love about Mom is her innate motherly instinct – her ability to read my mood and ALWAYS cheer me up!
  • There’s nothing more special for a daughter than knowing her mother is always thinking about her.

I’ve read those words, and the messages in their entirety, over and over again…reflecting back on all the years passed.  They were absolutely the brightest years of my life.  The joys and the challenges, all of it.

Being their parent was always more important than being their friend. I’ve retired my playbook, but not my sense of motherhood.  My children are everything to me, and  I cannot imagine my life’s journey without them in it.