Sage: 57 months

Four days late. No surprise, anymore.

This last month, you spent nearly two whole weeks with your Grandma Carol and Poppa Darrell in Indiana, which actually included a few days’ roadtrip to Wisconsin to spend with your Aunt Amanda, Uncle Paul, and cousins Maggie and Mollie.

You got to go back to the preschool you had in Indiana. You made friends right away, and the teachers loved having you back.

You got to go to the park with Great Aunt Susie, and to the movies with Great Aunt Janet. You told me later that you started thinking about Great Nanny, who passed away less than a year ago. I wasn’t sure if you remembered her or not, but you told me you missed her.

Up in Wisconsin, you bravely pet a chicken and retrieved two eggs from the nest; you also rode on Oreo, the horse. We were so proud of you!

Your mom and I weren’t there because we were in Hawaii. When I earned my CPCU designation, my company sent us to the conferment ceremony, which was in Honolulu. For both of us, it was an opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime trip, mostly paid for, but we couldn’t take you along. Fortunately, you had a wonderful time.

You told Grandma Carol that you had three wishes. To live in Indiana again; to go to school every day; and to have a baby sister.

You didn’t tell those wishes to me, although you did tell me that you thought you were pretty good at holding babies like your cousin Macie, so you were ready to be a big sister.

(Because I know other people are reading this when I post it, I’d better be clear before anybody gets too excited: no, there is not a little sibling on the way.)

In the past week or so, I think you’ve been very overtired. You’ve been more emotional than usual, sometimes crying hard for no apparent reason. You talk about feeling panic and feeling ashamed, and it crushes me to see that, because I remember having those feelings when I was four and five, and to be honest I was hoping that maybe that was something I wouldn’t have passed on to you. I know from talking with other parents that this isn’t necessarily abnormal, but I still hate to see you hurt.

I hate it. I hate feeling powerless to protect you, even when I know that sometimes my job is to stand back and let you experience the world.

I hate watching you try something and fail and give up, because I don’t want you to give up so easily — and right now, it’s hard to motivate you to not give up when you think something is hopeless. I thought maybe you were too young to experience this, but maybe it’s because so many other things have come so easily for you that when something is challenging you don’t yet have the resilience to keep trying. That took me a long time to build, and I still struggle with it, so I’m hoping I can find a way to instill more self-confidence and strength in you early on.

Because I’ll be honest: you’ll need it. There will be things that happen in this world that will feel impossible to overcome. Times when you’ll feel like there is no good choice, and you have to try to do something you don’t think you can do.

I hope I don’t sound too bleak. I don’t mean to.

Sometimes those things will be exciting, even as they’re scary. Sometimes, it will be possible to feel confidence and terror all at the same time.

It’s possible that this might be the last public letter, Sage. Hopefully, you don’t care whether or not they become private, but as you’re getting older and as our lives change and evolve, not everything will necessarily be as open as these letters have been. I don’t know yet. But I’ll keep writing them, even if only in private.

Anyway.

My monthly advice still has not changed: be who you are. As soon as you know who you are, be that person. As soon as you know one facet of who you are, embrace it and be it. You may not have it all figured out. You may never have it all figured out. But what you know, own it. It’s you. It’s yours.

The specific advice for this month?

Love yourself.

Now, hold on. Because you’ve probably heard that a million times, and it’s not always as easy as it sounds. But I’ve started to gain a new perspective on this.

I’ve heard people ask, “How are you going to love others if you can’t even love yourself?” and I’ve never quite bought into that. I can love others even while hating myself; it just isn’t good for me to do that. I think it’s better to get to the root of it. Why do people not love themselves? Usually, it’s because of input they get from outside telling them that they’re not good enough, or they’re not pretty or smart or useful or whatever. It’s because we listen to others… but we’re better at listening to the people who criticize us and play on our fears than we are at listening to those who praise us.

But ultimately, the only person who is going to be with you in every single moment of your life… is you. I’ve heard people talking about loving your failures and your flaws, and that just seems counterintuitive to me even now, because if you think of them as failures and flaws, it’s hard to choose to love them, or even to understand what it means to love them. I think, instead, that it comes down to that old “Serenity Prayer” — you have to decide to have the serenity to accept what you can’t change, the courage to change what you can, and the wisdom to know the difference. If your flaws can’t be changed, accept it; let it go. That’s okay. That’s loving yourself. If it can change, and you want to change, work to change. That’s okay, too. That’s still loving yourself.

When you find yourself disliking yourself, saying, “I’m too ________” it’s time to stop and ask yourself if it really matters. I often have thought that I was too unattractive. But for what? For someone to decide they like me? If that’s why they like me, they don’t know me. And I want to be liked, and loved, for who I am.

Here’s the most important part: if you are able to love yourself, you won’t care nearly as much what anyone else thinks about you. For one thing, if they dislike you for something that’s not true, that’s their problem. If they dislike you for something about who you really are… then that’s also their problem. It doesn’t always make it easy, but it often makes it a lot easier.

Anyway… Sage… I love you for you. I love you when you’re happy, sad, angry, goofy, and even when you are irrepressibly and agonizingly four years old. I love you with all my heart, and I always will. Your mother and I love you so much that you’ll get sick of hearing us say it, but so help me, you will always, always, always know that it’s true.

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Sage: 56 months

This post is late, as they all have been lately. This post is also going to be very short.

This has not been an easy month, for many reasons. I have been struggling, very heavily, with depression. The more sinister aspects of it, too: self-loathing, despair, and the accompanying physical and mental fatigue.

There are times that I feel like I’m a whisper in a storm; other times that I’m a powderkeg levee. There are so many things I want to try to explain, but I don’t have any idea how to begin.

My advice for you this month: listen to children. They see things more clearly than adults, a lot of the time. The lessons we “simplify” to try to teach them? That’s what we should be teaching ourselves.

Be who you are, Sage. I have not been very good at taking this “simplified” advice, myself, and I regret it. Be who you are.

I love you to the edge of the universe and back. So does your mother. You’re the bright shining spot in my days; you are my sunshine.

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Sage: 55 Months

We’ve had a busy few weeks.

Your new cousin Macie was born, and we went back to Indianapolis to visit her over the 4th of July weekend. You practiced holding your baby dolls for two weeks leading up to that visit so that you’d feel confident holding Macie. You were so proud, and we were so proud of you, too.

You spent the next weekend with Grandma and Grandpa (and a little bit with cousins Mason and Lucy) while your mother and I went to the Adirondacks to celebrate our 18th anniversary.

We spent the next weekend in Buffalo and Rochester, for ComedySportz and the Strong Museum of Play.

And this past weekend, we went to Indianapolis again, where you got to play with all of your cousins on your mother’s side — Maggie, Mollie, Raven, and Macie. It was the first time the five of you were all together in the same place; I hope that’s something we can make happen over and over throughout your life.

We’ve had some ups and downs this month. Since you’ve been traveling so much, you’ve been tired, and that has led to some unexpected meltdowns. We took you to see “The Secret Life of Pets,” and it was too scary for you; Mom had to take you out of the theatre while I stayed with Mason and Lucy. You were too scared to sleep alone.

On the other hand, when we were in Indiana this last weekend, we went to the Johnson County Fair (you misheard it as the Dachshund County Fair and were a little disappointed that it wasn’t a huge land of weiner dogs), and for days ahead of time you talked about how much you wanted to go on the Ferris wheel. That day, when you were talking to me about it ahead of time, I could tell by the motion of your hands (in a circle parallel to the ground) that you didn’t know what a Ferris wheel actually was. I pointed it out to you. You insisted that you wanted to go on it. You’d been scared of some other rides, but you were sure you wanted to go. I sat next to you and put my arm around you, and told you what it was going to be like.

And you LOVED it. You begged to go on it again. We were so proud of you for being brave!

I will admit to occasionally being a little bit worried about how much you worry. You remind me of me, a lot. Earlier this month, you suddenly asked me who would take care of you if I died. I said that Mommy would. You asked who would take care of you if she died. I told you I would. You said, “No, what if both of you got dead?” I was concerned that you were even thinking about this, but I calmly reminded you that you have lots of aunts and uncles and grandparents and even friends of Mommy and Daddy who would make sure that you were taken care of. You burst out sobbing: “But if you got dead, how would they know?” I realized you were worried about being left alone, and not knowing how to contact anyone.

No child your age should have to worry about that. I don’t know what age kids normally start thinking about that, but it breaks my heart to see you burst out in tears about imaginary situations like that. We have a hard time stopping you from worrying — about being left alone, about scary movies, about situations you’ve made up in your own head where you don’t like the “rules” of the imaginary game you’ve made.

I’ve also noticed that you’re concerned with being pretty. It’s tough, because almost everyone I know has issues with how they look, and even when you’re a grown-up like me and Mommy and we know that what’s on the inside is more important, we still have days where we look in the mirror and get sad that we aren’t more physically attractive. And those things that people will start to tell you that it only matters if you decide to like yourself… well, that may be true, but your sense of aesthetics won’t magically change. You just have to change how much you care about it, and that’s much easier to say than it is to do. I’ll be honest — I’ve never liked the way that I look, and it makes it hard for me to accept any compliment I get about my appearance.

That being said, I like myself. I like my creativity, my passion, my intelligence. I like that I fight for equality and that I stand against bigotry. I like that people I love and respect also love and respect me; that tells me I’m doing something right.

As your parent, I’ll try to give you this lesson throughout your life (and this is my advice this month): it’s okay to be pretty. It’s okay to want to be pretty. But it’s not okay to dislike yourself for not being as pretty as you want to be. You wouldn’t dislike your best friend if they were less attractive. You wouldn’t dislike your favorite people if an accident left them disfigured. You have no right to hold yourself to a higher standard than you would hold anyone else. This is an easy lesson to learn, but a very hard one to believe. I know; I have to remind myself of this often.

And, of course, my usual advice: Be who you are.

Be yourself. That’s also a difficult lesson to learn. It’s why I tell you every month. Don’t lose sight of that. I hope… I sincerely hope… that some day, you’ll come to me and tell me that you were faced with a difficult decision, but you did the right thing because you knew who you were. And I hope that as I strive to be the best father I can be that I can lead by example. (I also hope that when I fail at leading by example, you’ll also see another trait that is necessary: resilience. Some day you’ll make a decision that you’ll regret, because you aren’t being true to yourself. I hope that you then determine that the right thing to do is to stand up, brush yourself off, and move forward with being yourself.)

I love you, Sage! Your mother and I both do, with all our hearts.

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Sage: 54 Months

You’re four and a half years old.

Seriously.

That happened a couple days ago. You had a fun evening; you got to go to your friend Lily’s house, and her mother, my friend “Miss Julie,” celebrated your half-birthday in style. You had a party crown to wear, and a chocolate cake with 4 1/2 candles. Lily made you a folded-paper fan, which you proudly showed off.

We picked you up late in the evening, after you’d been in bed for a little while, and brought you home.

And today, you got a new baby cousin! She’s back in Indiana, and you’re counting down the days until we get to go see her.

You had the chance to go back to Indiana briefly last month; I was there for the ComedySportz World Championship, and you and your mom came out. You got to meet a lot of my ComedySportz friends — many of whom you won’t remember — but the one that made you happiest was my dear friend MaryAnn from Portland, Oregon. I’ve been friends with MaryAnn for eight years. She brought you a pink stuffed bunny, and you’ve been snuggling with it every night since. You named it Pinksalot. You made her a birthday card with crayon bunnies in it, including one that was upside-down that you told her was “a funny bunny.”

We’ve started meeting people in the neighborhood (finally). You’ve got offers of play dates and swimming pool visits (which you remind me about nearly daily).

You’ve started playing with words a lot more; today, while getting ready to help your mom make cookies, you looked at the rolling pin and said to me with a smile, “We’re all set for wocking and wolling. GET IT? DO YOU GET IT?”

I think what amazes me the most is that you take the time to ask us questions like, “How was work today, Dad?” and “Are you enjoying your dinner, Mom?” Other kids your age don’t generally do that. Heck, most kids twice your age would never think of it. Who knows, maybe you WON’T think of it when you’re nine…

As always, I’m going to give you the same advice: Be who you are. It’s so important to do that.

My other advice this month? When possible, say yes to opportunities. I said no, a lot, growing up, because I had the mindset that things were going to be impossible to accomplish. Things were too hard. I was too unskilled or unprepared. But you know what? Most of the things I regret are things I didn’t do, not things that I tried to do and failed. Try to say yes. I’m not saying dive into EVERYTHING head-first. But if you think you want to try it, and it’s not LITERALLY dangerous? It might be worth it.

I love you, Sage. Your mother and I both do, with all our hearts. We’re so proud of the person you’re continuing to become!

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Sage: 53 months

This letter is late for a reason.

The medication I was taking for my depression stopped being as effective as it had been, and I’ve been switching to another medication. The process has been difficult, and many evenings have been spent fighting hard against the pull of despair.

This is not the sort of thing most parents want to tell their kids. You may be an adult by the time you read this, and it will still be a bit painful for me to tell you these things. Depression is a vicious thing, and nobody should have to deal with it.

 

In fact, one of my biggest fears about being a father was that I could pass along my genetic predilection for depression to you. It pains me to imagine you bearing this burden. And for several nights in a row, when I thought about writing you this letter, that’s what I thought about: your future, and what it may hold, and what kinds of struggles you might have with chemical imbalances in your brain, and the difficulty of finding friends and family who will try to understand them instead of just tolerating them.

It’s not easy. And I hope that my DNA didn’t set you up for a difficult life.

On the flip side… without the depression, I wouldn’t be me. And I don’t blame anyone in my genetic ancestry for this, so it’s silly to think you might blame me.

But really, it’s not about blame. It’s just that I don’t like the idea of you suffering.

The hardest part about depression, for me, is that I can see it affecting the people around me — the ones who love me — and I can’t stop it from happening. I can see people decide that I can’t be relied upon, or that I’m more of a drain on them than a benefit.

And it takes a lot of effort for me to realize that what I just said isn’t necessarily true. I still have many friends who love me and trust me and want me around; I even have a few who make a conscious effort to learn about my depression and how to help me.

I’m about to go away for a week. The ComedySportz World Championship is coming up, and it’s one of the happiest times I have all year. It rejuvenates me to be around people who accept me without question, and there are literally hundreds of those people at these events. They’re my “tribe,” so to speak.

So my advice to you this month — of course, be who you are. Whether that’s someone struggling with depression or someone who doesn’t, recognize the reality of who you are and figure out how to be the best you that you can be. And then? Find your tribe.

It may not be easy. You’ll learn that some friends are not as reliable as you thought, and that other people that you don’t necessarily like that much may be the best friends you could ever have. Finding your tribe may be challenging, but when you feel like you’ve found your home, you’ll know it in your heart.

I love you, Sage. Your mother and I both do, so tremendously. We’re proud of you, too; you go out of your way to thank people, to compliment them, to encourage them, and to apologize to them when you’ve been impolite. It’s an amazing thing to see in a four-year-old. You have a beautiful heart; never let anyone change that.

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Sage: 52 months

This has not been an easy month.

There have been tantrums and crying nearly every day. Arguing and talking back, pouting and whining. (If I were trying to be funny, I’d say “And your behavior wasn’t much better.”)

I know that a lot of this has to do with the changes we’re still going through. We’ve moved into our own house (you love your rainbow wall, and you just got your first pet, a betta we’ve named Blueberry); I’ve been gone a few times for various things; you don’t have a lot of kids you play with regularly any more (there’s only one other kid at your daycare)… things are a little tough.

On the other hand, you still are incredibly polite; you spent a few days in Indiana with Grandma Carol and Papa, and every told us how you were saying please and thank you all the time, and giving hugs. Your sleep patterns are much better now — you stay in bed easier than you have been — and you’re trying more foods unprompted, even though you don’t like most of them.

You still blow our minds; when we were driving to Indiana, your mom pointed out to you that there were pink clouds in the sky. You said they looked like a constellation, proceeded to explain to me that a constellation was a picture you imagine in the stars, and you named a couple of them before casually dropping the knowledge that the Little Dipper has a star in it called Polaris.

You’re four.

You’ve started asking a lot of questions about God and death and sentience and at times, even the nature of reality. You remind me a lot of me. I hope that your future years aren’t filled with as much depression as mine were; we’ll know to look for it and to try to find the right way to help you.

You’re about to start playing kiddie-league soccer; I’ll be honest, I’m trying to stay positive about it even though I’m not overly thrilled with the idea. Almost every experience I ever had in any level of organized sports was a negative one, and it’s hard for me to keep a positive outlook on this, but I’m determined to try. I wasn’t sure if you’d have the focus, but then again probably neither will a lot of the other kids, and I’ve always said that what’s important is that you’re having a good time and getting exercise.

We’ve been so busy trying to organize the new house that sometimes you don’t get as much attention as we’d like to give you. I’m sorry about that. And we get so tired that each of us, at least once, has needed to apologize to you for our own attitudes.

You’re quick to forgive.

The advice that I want to give you this month… of course, be who you are is always going to be the main mantra… but the specific advice for the month is this:

Stand up for yourself.

When I was young, I always thought this referred only to physical bullying, because that’s about the only way it was ever presented on television. And often, the “hero” of the story would stand up for himself or herself by being aggressive right back to the bully — either physically or with really cutting words. And it felt good to see the bully taken down, but I always felt a bit of discomfort that the only way to “beat” a bully was to become a bit of a bully oneself. Very rarely was the “hero” shown to succeed by actually befriending the bully. But anyway… standing up for yourself isn’t necessarily about fighting back, or about creating friendship. It may just mean figuring out why someone isn’t treating you nicely, and deciding whether it’s something you want to change or not. Or, it may mean being willing to voice your opinions when you have them. It may mean refusing to go along with peer pressure, or it may mean refusing to go along with me if you really feel I’m pushing you in the wrong direction on something. It’s not something to do lightly, or you may forget to stand up for the more vulnerable around you; but sometimes, you’ll be the one who is vulnerable. When that happens, stand up. You can handle it. You’re strong.

I love you so much, Sage. Your mother and I both do. Keep being strong.

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Sage: 51 months

This is the most delayed your letter has ever been, I think. I feel pretty terrible about it.

I went to Boston for some training the week of March 14th; the week of March 28th, we were preparing to go to Indianapolis. I’m not sure what happened during the week between to make it difficult for me to write your letter. I mean, I know there was packing, there was planning, etc, etc, etc… but I should have done this before now.

We’re in the new house now. We’ve been in it for only a week and a half, and we still have scads of boxes we’re going through as we can, but we’re here. You’ve had a chance to play in the backyard, you love your new room with the rainbow wall that you requested, and in general we’ve done pretty well here.

It’s still a tough change for you, though. You miss spending time with Grandpa Ray and Grandma Max every evening, and you’ve more than once told us that you’d rather go back to live in Indiana (usually any time something doesn’t go your way out here).

I’ve hesitated telling you some things in these letters, because I don’t want you to think that things were worse than they really were… but I want to be honest with you. You’re going through a very difficult phase, in terms of your behavior. You’ve started whining a lot. You’ve started talking back a lot and telling us that you don’t want to do what we’ve told you to do. We know this is natural, but it sure can be difficult.

On the other hand, you spent several days without us in Indiana with your Grandma Carol and Papa, and everyone reported back to us that you were incredibly well-behaved and said “please” and “thank you” a lot. So we know you can behave; you’re just not always wanting to do it for us.

I think a lot of it has to do with the changes that are going on, and the fact that it is a little harder for us to give you as much attention as you’ve had for the past several months. We’re trying hard to balance things; we’ve taken opportunities to take you for treats and to spend a little extra time with you at home with crafts or books. But the bottom line is that you’re four, and it’s a tough age.

You keep proving yourself to be smarter than we expect, even though we expect you to be smart. On the way to Indiana, your mother pointed out pink clouds; you told us they looked like a constellation, explained what a constellation was, named a couple of them, and told us that the Little Dipper had a star in it called Polaris.

You use words like “responsibility” and “absolutely.” Not many four-year-olds do that.

You’ve started coming up with your own stories instead of just parroting back stories you’ve heard before; you combine ideas in a way that shows me you’re using creativity and imagination.

The one thing I really miss is snuggling with you. You don’t really let me do that anymore, most of the time. You’re too busy running and being active. And at bedtime, you usually are fighting the urge to sleep by trying to remain in motion. I don’t get many snuggles with you anymore… but it makes the moments that you do snuggle with me even better.

Your advice for this month: of course, the first is what I always tell you. Be who you are. To be honest with you, I’m still struggling to do this, and I’m almost forty years old; it’s not an easy thing to do, and you’ll run into lots of reasons not to do it, but try to hold true to yourself. Be who you are.

But the other advice: learn to apologize. It’s a difficult skill to really master, but it’s important. It’s important to apologize sincerely and without defense. It’s also important to not apologize when it isn’t warranted. Sometimes it’s better to say “Thank you for being patient with me” than “I’m sorry I took so long.” But here’s the real kicker: learning when to apologize also means that sometimes you may need to apologize even if you don’t feel like you’ve done wrong. If someone tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to tell them that you didn’t. Stand up for what you believe, but always try to determine which is more important to you: keeping peace and helping someone else heal, or being “right.”

I love you, Sage. With all my heart. Your mother and I both do! I hope as we continue to turn this house into our home that you’ll settle in to the new routine. And maybe we’ll snuggle a bit, too.

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