For his first Christmas, I decided to write an open letter to my firstborn, Tristan, each day starting with the first of December and culminating on Christmas Day. When my daughter Fiona came along, I decided to make it a tradition to write a series of such letters for each of my children. If you wish, you can read my letters to Tristan here, and Fiona’s here.
For Ivy’s first Christmas, I was too emotionally spent and mentally exhausted at the end of last year to capture the thoughts that would do her justice. As hard as 2020 has been, I’m in a better place this December, so I’m doing it now. As with Tristan’s and Fiona’s letters, my goal is to share what’s on my heart for my daughter. The rest of you are welcome to read along too, if you like.
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My dear Ivy,
There is so much I want to tell you. So much I look forward to sharing with you, years down the road, when you’re able to read this. Your brother is just about at an age when I feel comfortable sharing his letters – now nearly a decade old – with him. I look forward to doing the same with you one day.
I will begin this first letter with an apology – one of many I will owe you throughout your life. My intent was to write these letters for your first Christmas, as I did for your then-six-month-old brother. For your sister, less than two months old at the start of her first December, I decided to wait until I had the chance to get to know her a bit better. But for you, I wanted to do as I did for Tristan and write your letters for your first Christmas.
But I couldn’t. In your first year earthside, things were so crazy and mixed up and emotional and chaotic that I didn’t have the mental energy to write your letters for your first Christmas. The year 2020 has been crazy as well – so much so that I’ve been very grateful more than once that you likely won’t remember much of it. But for myself, I’m in a place now where I am more able to collect my thoughts and share with you what’s on my heart for you, than I was this time last year.
I’m sorry for failing to write to you then. I’m grateful that the intervening year has provided some space to get to know you and watch you grow into your self a bit more, but I also have some regret around it.
And that’s what I’d like to focus this first letter on: Regret.
Like I said, this apology is just one of many I will owe you. I’m still figuring out what life as your daddy will be like. I’ll probably still be figuring it out by the time you grow up and head out into life as an adult. But I do know one thing: I’m going to screw it up – probably lots of times. I’ve done so with your brother and sister, and I have no doubt I will with you, too. Your mom and I have always tried to be very open about when we mess up – to be honest about our own failings, and to apologize openly when we need to, rather than justifying or explaining away our mistakes. Sometimes we’ll fail at that, too. And I’m sorry for that as well.
I think the important thing I want you to take away from this first letter is: Regret is ok. Sometimes, it’s even a good thing.
When your mom and I first started to fall in love, we tried to approach our relationship together by making very careful choices – about life, about love, and about each other – with the goal of not having to worry about regrets. Ironically, that decision is one I now regret – not because I wish I could go back and change a bunch of our choices (I don’t, really), but because at times that focus on avoiding regret robbed us of some of the joy of our early relationship as we stressed about this decision or that, worried about taking a wrong step or doing something that might cause second thoughts in the future. Thinking through your decisions is wise (more on that in future letters), but it’s possible to over-think things (believe me. I do it all the time), and to miss out on the joy that comes with making a decision and enjoying the result. “Fear of More Options” (or FOMO, as your mom likes to call it), is a very real thing that can cause us to miss out on what life has for us in this moment, while we worry about what it might have had for us instead, under a different set of choices.
But it’s more than that. In trying to avoid regret, it’s really, really easy to talk yourself into believing that “it’s ok” . . . even when it’s very much not. I think back to conversations I’ve had with your brother and sister, when they were in the midst of some deep sadness, perhaps over something that didn’t really make sense to me at the time. It’s tempting to try to gloss over the regrets in those moments, to try to “fix it,” and convince the person in the midst of their own sadness that “everything is ok.” I’ve said those words to your brother and sister many times, not because it was true, but because I wanted it to be true. That really doesn’t fix much of anything. It wasn’t fair to them, and despite the fact that I’m sure I’ll probably do the same to you at times, it’s not fair to you, either. And I’m sorry.
I want you to know that your feelings matter. I love watching your bubbly, effusive, joyful self as you toddle around the house in search of something new to discover. But I want you to know that your sadness, your pain, and your regret matter, too. Even now, at a year and a half old.
Your feelings are yours to own, not mine. It isn’t up to me to tell you what is or isn’t regrettable about your circumstances or your emotions.
Sometimes, your regrets will be around things you can control (or could have). I have regrets around some of the decisions we made early on in your and your brother’s and sister’s lives – things I wish we’d done differently, or choices we might have made, but didn’t. And sometimes they will be things completely outside your control: I have a lot of regret over the fact that my mom, your Grandma Pat, will never get to have you run over and grab her leg in a big bear hug, the way you do mine.
Both kinds of regrets are ok – those that come because of our own choices, and those around which we have no choice. Often, it’s our regrets that tell us what’s truly important to us – even after it’s gone.
And even then – even when it’s done and it’s over and there’s no going back – your feelings matter. Many years ago, back when your brother was a few months younger than you are now as I’m writing this, we were out of town for a week-long gathering with friends. On one particularly hard day as the two of us – still getting used to being parents – fussed over a very cranky and upset baby Tristan, one of our dear friends saw us struggling and pulled us aside for a chat.
I still remember what she said that day:
“It’s not your job to meet all of your child’s needs. Nobody can do that, all the time, every time. Your job is to make sure your child knows that their needs matter.“
While there will be times that I regret failing – or being unable – to meet your needs, I hope you always, always, always know that they matter. That you matter. That it’s ok to regret and feel sad when your needs are not being met. And that I love you no matter what – when you’re happy and bubbly and reveling in the joy of met needs, and when you’re sad and upset and regretful because of some need that is not, or cannot be, met. Even if it’s me that is failing to meet them. Those times will come. I will regret them. I’m sorry in advance, and it’s ok to be sad about them, even if I’m sitting there trying to talk you out of it in the moment. Please always know that. Please know that even when I say or do the wrong thing – something I will have cause to regret – I love you anyway. No matter what.
I love you so, so much.