I’ve been thinking a lot about you, especially last month and as the 2022 gathering of friends and family approached (more on that later). I’ve been thinking about our adventures and stories that I want to share with this forum and I realized that there is a story that you didn’t know, but were intimately involved in. The story of how you influenced our family – of course that is a long story and one that is still unfolding, but there is a part of that story I want to tell you about: how you changed us as a young family.
As you know, your Mom and I had two beautiful and intelligent little girls before you joined our family. Hanna and Shayna were precocious, sweet, and well adjusted. They slept regularly from a very young age. They were compliant and well behaved. In other words, we thought we had parenting nailed. Shayna was 6 and Hanna was 2 and half when you were born.
You were not that kind of baby. You were less comfortable being still and less compliant about sleeping. You always wanted to be one step further along: wanting to crawl before you could roll over, stand when you could only crawl, run when you could only walk. You were the child who, when he crawled in a lap and was content to be read to, was for sure sick or running a temperature. Normally, you would only sit still for a story for about 10 seconds, until you were about 3 or 4. You were the kid that was always on the go, wanting to do the next thing. As parents, you helped us understand, it was more about the nature of the child than just our parenting skills.
Your energy and interests, as you became a toddler, started to affect the things we did as a family and how we did them. We discovered that you loved storytelling one day when I was desperate to engage your interest after returning from a backpacking trip. I told you an outrageous tall tale about running off a cliff to escape from a bear and using a sleeping bag as a parachute to gently land on the ground and escape. From that day on, storytelling riveted you. When we realized that you were mesmerized while being told a story, we began to go out to restaurants again. Storytelling was our secret weapon to keep you patient while waiting for food. But it was not only my stories – it was also stories from your Mom, Shayna, and Hanna.
It’s no surprise that tall tales and stories with magical characters (like the Flower Fairy) led directly to role playing adventure stories with Shayna as the dungeon master and you and Hanna as characters. These interactive stories happened at home, at parks, and in the car on long trips. It catapulted the girls from Polly Pockets and horse make-believe to elves, monsters, wizards, and battles. It drove a whole new level of creativity in story telling by Mom and I. It also led to Dungeons and Dragons, online gaming, and fantasy books for you.
You also encouraged a sense of adventure and possibility for our family from a young age – running off to explore alleys, behind trees, or in dumpsters to find stuff (the number of bones, rocks, old pocket knives, lighters, sticks, rocks, gadgets etc. you found was astonishing). And some of it was pretty good stuff. You were fearless and curious about everything. I think you must have at least 20 different collections, from old cameras and vintage bottles, to pocket knives and pinecones. You would talk to anyone about anything. Your curiosity had no limits, and we were not surprised when you struck up conversations with strangers (for example, approaching a man when you were 4 and asking him how he had lost his leg and having a long, in-depth conversation with him).
As you got older and what you could safely do expanded, your interests encouraged my own inner 14-year-old. For example, we pushed the limits on fireworks and mortars (traveling up to Wyoming to smuggle fireworks banned in Colorado), off-roading, exploring the wilderness by hiking and bouldering off trail, skiing in the trees, and more. Then you got into parkour, kung-fu, and - of course, wrestling. Later this expanded to photography, rock-climbing, scuba and more.
Shayna and Hanna most definitely have their own sense of adventure and exploration, as we know from their own international travels, love of backpacking, skiing/snowboarding, etc. – but I believe that innate nature and sense of possibility was expanded by your relentless energy and enthusiasm from a very young age. You pushed them to try new things, you pestered them to do things with you, you had mock kung-fu battles with them, and most of all you enjoyed those new things together as children, as teenagers, and as adults (foods, countries, books, politics, and music).
It goes without saying that you also changed Mom and I - and for the better, at every stage of your life. Of course, this is part of our struggle - to find who we are without you being where you should be, with us. The pain is with us every day and so is your influence on who we are. How we think, what we do, and how we look at the world carries you with us. It’s not a substitute, but it is the way you are still with us now and how we can embody and honor your impact on us and your extended family, friends, and the world going forward.