Dear Fiona…

Dear Fiona…

The thing I remember most about your first few days on this planet was the anxiety.

The actual birth was an ordeal in and of itself, but barely 24 hours later nurses were shoving us out of the hospital, giving two young adults with the least amount of experience around babies a very tiny one of our own, while saying we had to head out and start doing this whole parenthood thing, now.

Like, RIGHT now.

I distinctly remember driving home at 15mph with the infant car seat that first time, cursing other drivers for passing at such high speeds when there was a tiny defenseless baby in our car.

Years later, I would tell other new parents how wild it was they hand you a baby at the precise moment you have almost zero knowledge of how to raise an infant, but then you hit the ground running, learning as you go and everything mostly falls into place.

The first few weeks also made me think about how amazing it is that humans even exist today. How on earth did humans survive as a species over hundreds of thousands of years when our offspring are so delicate during their first year?

The first six months were fun, and I called it your "larval stage of development” because babies zero to six months just eat, sleep, and poop—and do little else. Your primary form of locomotion back then was crowdsurfing, as people wanted to hold you as much as we did, and we passed you from arms to arms.

After the first six months, I told all my friends expecting that the biggest thing we learned is we didn't need almost any of the 700 different products that were heavily advertised to new parents. Instead we just needed three items in bulk:

  • properly-sized diapers
  • plain white onesies
  • burp cloths

That's why all our first year photos are of you wearing a simple white onesie. It just works. Everything else was superfluous.

Before you were born, we also threw a baby shower where we asked friends to bring in one kid book they remembered as their favorite when they were children, and much to our surprise we got nearly 30 different amazing books, with only two people buying the same book for us. We read you those books (and more) every night for many years after, but the ones with an inscription on the inside cover of who gave it to you and why they loved it were my favorites to crack open.

Another big early memory is how you never really slept through the night in your first 18 months. That first year and a half was a lot of raising you against a backdrop of constant sleep deprivation, but we got through it, and you learned to sleep until 6am eventually (I was elated when you started to sleep until noon as a teenager on weekends).

A thing that baffled me when you were a toddler was whenever I'd take you anywhere, older folks who would stop us to ask how old you were, then they'd always say "Oh! That's THE BEST AGE!" no matter what number I answered with. Back then—and even still to this day—I never felt like one era of your childhood was any better than another. I guess what they were trying to say was they missed that phase of life in their own kids when things were easier, but it always sounded weird to me as a new parent.

Every day you learned new words, took new steps, and grew into a more well-rounded little person. Honestly, though it was fun to place you in a rocking seat so I could do other things during the first few months, I enjoyed getting to talk and interact with you every year that followed more.

Every day you became a little more like you and I liked every day more than the last.

Once you started school, one of our guiding principles as parents was to show you everything we possibly could in regards of what the world had to offer.

Before you hit the age of 10 we spent nearly every weekend visiting children's museums, aquariums, zoos, taking hikes, swimming, learning to ride bikes, and traveling as much as possible. We took you all over America then around the world on trips to Italy, Australia, and Canada so you could see rare, fragile things like Venice, The Great Barrier Reef, and Glacier National Park as those places probably won't exist in the same form years from now. I jokingly called it "climate disaster tourism" back then but I hope you have lasting memories of all those early outings.

Our thinking back then was we didn't know if you wanted to grow up to be a musician, scientist, or a daredevil stunt person, but if we could let you sample a little bit of everything, you could decide what you wanted to be knowing you got to try everything first.

You probably don't know yet what you'll be, and that's fine. It'll come to you someday when you find your thing. You’ll know it the day when it hits you deep inside your bones as you realize “this is exactly where I should be and what I should be doing.”

One of the unexpected parts of parenting was deciding what your schooling would look like. I don't think my parents ever gave it a thought as I just attended whatever school was closest to wherever we lived at the time.

When you're the child of parents with degrees—one still a working professor—we knew we'd take your schooling seriously, so we tried to give you a varied, interesting, and comprehensive set of experiences around education.

You started at a Montessori preschool and grew into a precocious kid like all your classmates and stayed there for years after. I loved visiting on parents night and seeing all the cool projects they let little kids take on.

By fourth grade we had to pick another school, and the Japanese charter school seemed like a fun, rigorous place for learning in a new way. It sucks that Oregon runs all their charters on a shoestring budget, as it felt like it was one bake sale fundraiser after another to keep the lights on while you wrestled with homework and an incredibly early bus schedule (sorry about that last one, thankfully schools are getting smarter about later starts these days).

No one I know ever enjoyed their time in middle school, so when we saw an experimental one-room farm school was opening, we mentioned it and you were totally game. We let you spend two years outside the typical classroom raising ducks and rabbits and training horses while studying the rest of the day. You still did great at math and reading and though I know it wasn't entirely a great experience having less than a dozen classmates, it seemed better than a typical middle school with all the hormones and kids fighting each other inside crowded buildings.

High school was the worst four years of my life, and since you share half of my DNA, I should have checked in on you more often during those years. I was always grappling with the push-pull of trying to give you space to grow into your own self while simultaneously fighting the urge to monitor your every move and tap you on the shoulder every 30 seconds asking if you needed any help. As with anything, there were times I was probably too close, and other times I know I wasn't there often enough for you and for that I'm sorry.

As I've told you before, when you look back on your life when you're much older, high school will hopefully barely register as a blip in your memories, even though when you (and I) were in high school, time there felt like it lasted decades.

You had an experience unlike anything me or your mom ever had which is a pandemic that hit during the tail end of your freshman year and its effects continued through graduation. I can't imagine how weird it must have felt to be sent home on spring break, but then not return to school campus for nearly a year. I had no experience like that as a kid and have no idea what it'll mean for you and your peers when you are all older looking back on it.

When you asked for a gap year off after a tumultuous four years of high school, we instantly said yes, because both your mom and I would have loved the chance to reset, take a pause, get our bearings, grow up a bit, and explore the world before returning back to school. Both your parents went straight through elementary, middle, and high school, then directly into undergrad and grad schools without any breaks and frankly, it wasn't the wisest choice for either of us.

I would be lying if I said I wasn't worried during your gap year that you'd really enjoy working somewhere and making real money, and not want to go back to school. I know college isn't for everyone and frankly isn't as vital in our lives as it once was, but I did hope you would choose to go to a university after a year-long break from classes.

College is so much more than learning new subjects, it's a great way to spend four years testing out independent adulthood with plenty of safety nets around to catch you when anything goes wrong. Your mom and I were over the moon when you told us you wanted to apply to the University of Portland and when they accepted you soon after, we knew it'd be a great fit. I loved attending smaller universities and know UP's couple thousand students on campus most days is going to be a perfect size for you.

Today you turn nineteen and in a few short months you'll be off to live in a dorm for the next few years as you explore what college has to offer. Your mom and I are both incredibly proud of all you've done, all you've overcome, all you've accomplished, and are happy to think of all that is ahead for you.

I love you with all my heart Fiona, more than anything or anyone in the world and wish nothing but the best for you.

Happy Birthday. I hope your 19th is your best year ever.