On the occasion of your fifth birthday.
Before I started writing this year’s letter I read through the handful of letters I’d written in previous years and compared notes: See, I sat down to think about what to write and I for a frantic few minutes didn’t really think that much had changed in the last year… that I didn’t have anything worth writing about. But as of today you are five years old. Half of one decade. And not only has that been an amazing five years for your mom and I, both of us finally reconciled (I think) to this whole idea of being somebody’s parents, but every year — every month, every day it seems — you change a little bit and I think it’s not a lack of words that I have here for your fifth year of life, but quite the opposite.
I remember being five. I don’t know if you will. I guess, that I hope you will. But I remember… I remember little bits here and there (though to be honest I don’t remember being much younger than five.) I mean, I don’t recall the first five years of my life as clearly as I remember your first five years, certainly, and the few little bits of memory that I have of myself being five are mostly all little wisps of emotion and recollection. But I expect you are starting to have experiences now that will stick with you for the rest of your life… which is great, but also tough for us, let me tell you. I mean, we’ve been trying really hard not to be the type of parents who are just ‘phoning it in’ so to speak. But somehow I always knew that you probably wouldn’t remember much of the exact details until about now. If we messed something up, or had one of those summers (like this last summer) when we just didn’t get out camping or fishing or hiking as much as we had yearned for — planned for — all the previous winter, then what? No worries. We’d do something simpler because you probably wouldn’t remember it anyhow, right? I guess those days are over. You’re five, and from now on everything matters a little bit more. And by the way? Over the next eight years I’m planning on writing at least one article for every item on that “100 things to do…” list that I came up with a couple years ago now, and you are going to be the starring character in each. That’s the plan. Hold me to it. You’re old enough now for that, at least.
In past letters I rambled on about all the new things you’d learned and you just know I’m going to do that again; The thing is that you had some lessons in skills and experience, but you’ve also had some harder lessons.
On the positive side (though I can’t name everything because my memory is neither that good, nor do I want this letter to be fifty pages long) you got up on a two-wheel bike (without training wheels) for the first time this summer, you’ve been learning to read, you have learned the foundations of French, you help in the kitchen (particularly on Saturday morning pancake day), and you’ve learned to express your opinion in a way that I’d almost be willing to concede is approaching borderline-rational. You have developed new tastes, an interest in music outside the scope of toddler songs, learned to play the basics on the piano, have started to become a bit of a fish in the swimming pool (though you’ve a long way to go yet) and have demonstrated an awesome kind of imagination and determination in art, photography, and even (yes, really) making stop-motion animations. You surprise me every day.
Of course, there has unfortunately been a darker side to our lives this year too: we tried to balance your exposure to some of life’s more trying events, but we neither could completely shield you nor believe we should ever do such a thing. You had a rough winter after a tough-to-understand (even for us) fiasco with your day-home that left you very sad, missing some good friends you’d made, and leaving you kind of distant and sad for a very long time… and it still lingers there as a sour memory with plenty of unasked — but occasionally emerging — questions in your head, I think. With ten months of perspective, it all seems a little silly now, but back then it was rough and we learned a lot about our limits.
But our lives went on: you started kindergarten a couple weeks ago now, and the things you talk about when you come home each day are starting to seem more familiar to me: friends and experiences, fun and learning, and all that new stuff. If my job was only to have got you to this point, then I think I haven’t done too bad (if I say so myself) and the result has been one heck of a daughter. If anything I’ve set the bar pretty high for the next five, ten, fifty years…
Your parent’s lives have been pretty stationary for the last year, too, which has helped the frantic blur that it could have been. Mom keeps climbing the corporate ladder and you’ll probably never appreciate how much she struggles to hold our little family together the way she does, trying her best at being a good mom and giving you as much love and attention as you could ever want, while dodging through the minefield of her job that has been on-call, product-launches, and the disaster-recovery of exploded servers this past year. Somehow she managed to — amongst the millions of other demands on her time — not only sit on the board of directors for your playschool last year, help with your dance studio, and make sure you survived that aforementioned daycare snafu last winter, but she planned an amazing birthday party for you this year at Fort Edmonton with over a dozen kids, replete with a beautiful home-made cake, the design of which you picked out of a hundred options. (Don’t worry. You’ll appreciate it all someday.)
As for myself, most notably — amongst the busy-ness of work, and daily-photo-projects, and trying to just be a good dad — I’ve spent the last six months getting myself healthier: I’ve been running a lot more, eating better, losing weight, dropping cholesterol, improving my blood pressure (all those good things that grown-ups are supposed to do) and whenever I have a down day about all the hard effort involved, or want to give up, or want to scarf an entire bucket of fried chicken instead of something less artery-clogging… in that I can always count on a hug from you, a cheer as I check-in on the Wii Fit each Saturday morning, and a genuine interest from my nearly-five year old daughter that keeps me going a little further. You don’t know it yet, but being a dad has been good for me, and I think it might keep getting better.