On the last day of school

For my kids,

Today was your last day of school and summer break has officially begun. This last year has been one of the most challenging seasons in your lives but also one of the most rewarding. You have all grown so much. Not just physically (y'all are taller) but also emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. It has been a joy watching you transform into the persons you were created to be.

Christian, your school year has perhaps been the most arduous. This is the year that everything changed - not only for you but also for all of your classmates. Gone are the days of elementary school and recess three times a day. You entered the brave new world of middle school. More teachers, more students, more text books. New things to remember like bell schedules and locker combinations. The social rules became more complex as you and all of your peers attempted to figure out where you belong in the hierarchy of popular kids, rebels, jocks, and geeks. Everyone is battling the insecurities that comes with middle school as you want to fit in and to be treated like grownups yet you're still kids.

I don't want to overlook the heartbreaks of this last year. I know how hard it is when people you thought would be a lifelong friend suddenly change and the friendship was lost. I know how much it hurts when you feel like no one understands you. I know the stress of trying and failing to keep up when it seems like your teachers set impossible standards. I've been there. You're not alone.

This has not been an easy year. Perhaps it is because of those struggles that the successes have been so much sweeter. It has been an honor to laugh with you and play with you and help you with your homework. It was a wonderful privilege to see you perform in two orchestra concerts, and to see you learn your instrument easier and quicker than I imagined. I have been astonished at the insight you have shown into the nature of life from the microcosm of your school to the grand existence of all humanity. Your tenacity in the face of adversity has been admirable. You want to save the world and after what I've seen from you this year, there is no doubt in my mind that you can do it.

Zu, my sweet girl. This is the year your chronological age reached double digits. Along with your birthday came your requests for more special rights and more responsibilities. I started allowing you to stay up later with your big brother, and even though you still fall asleep quickly after you get that extra time, you usually do so cuddling with me. You need to know that in those moments, there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be than right there with you.

Like your older brother, you faced many hurdles in school. Yet you faced them with a mix of grace, aplomb, and a healthy dose of silliness. You are on the verge of adolescence yet still clinging to childlike awe. This year, you have lived in that tension, with one foot wanting to remain in your childhood forever and the other foot longing to be older. You are one part Wonder Woman and one part Dora the Explorer. You'd probably be more like Dora except you keep misplacing your backpack. Inside this frame of a spunky girl, I see glimpses of the lady you will soon become - filled with fire, compassion, and sassy wit. It's like that Ben Folds song we both love: "You got your mamma's taste but you got my mouth."

I know I am not the only one who sees your potential. Which is a great relief to me. One of my greatest fears about being your dad is how woefully unprepared I am to be a dad with a daughter. When it comes to hair and make up and feminine stuff, I have no idea what I am doing. But I know that I don't have to do it alone because my friends all adore you. As you tackle new challenges next year and in the years to come, I know that you will have an army to support and encourage you.

JJ, the changes in you this year have been the easiest to measure. You are taller, leaner, stronger, braver and more articulate now than when the school year started. While the same is true for your brother and sister, this growth has been most obvious with you. You are a wholly different person than you were nine months ago.

Today, I see a little man. A sharp dresser with a style all your own, you insisted on wearing shorts through most of the winter - even when there was deep snow covering the ground. You are unafraid to dance when the music is playing and often bust a groove when there isn't any music to be heard. You long for autonomy - doing your homework with minimal assistance, volunteering to do chores assigned to your siblings, defining your own identity, and demonstrating scant interest in what anyone else thinks about you.

The thing that has impressed me most this last year and the biggest transformation in you is one you might not even realize you're doing. More than ever before, you are beginning to express yourself. You are attempting to communicate your feelings, your wants and needs, your hopes and fears, your dreams and passions, what makes you angry or sad, and what brings you joy. I don't have to tell you who you are because you already know, and you will not hesitate to tell me.

For all of us, this was a tough year but it was also a good year. Now the fun begins. For the first time in a long time, I am genuinely excited for summer. And I can't wait to see what next year brings.

Sincerely, Dad.


  1. Very insightful post. As a Dad of 3 daughters, 2 of whom are teenagers, hang on. Zu will keep losing things, take longer to get ready, but you have always been there for her and that is one thing she won't forget. You are doing an admirable job raising your kids.

    1. Thank you. As long as I don't have to braid her hair, I'm sure we'll be OK.