This is Téa Sloane Smith, penning our Happy Thanksgiving letter. In a surprising, debatably controversial move, I’m sending the letter out by Thanksgiving, thereby justifying the rebranding. I’m betting that by calling it a Thanksgiving letter: 1) expectations will plummet, 2) people will be less irritated by its early arrival, and 3) lack of temporal competition will increase readership.
For 2 months (OK, 6 weeks; OK, 5 weeks and a day. It rounds up), we moved to Australia. Why, you ask? Well, first, our parents favor designing for memories over designing for experience. As a result, we’ve had an inordinate number of truly awful family experiences. The upside: in 20 years there is a decent chance we will have some pretty sweet pictures to look back on fondly. Instead of hoping in vain that we might not need therapy, our parents are aiming for the clearest, most direct path to it.
Second, they believe that the key to leading a happy life is persistently low expectations, and that frequent family travel can do that effectively. Unfortunately, they could not lower them enough. On the 10PM flight out, Cooper and I designed the seating. Mom would sit in the middle to create healthy space between us. We then lay down across all 3 seats to sleep. How does one do that you ask? Well, it turns out if the person in the middle scoots up a little, one of us can lay his feet behind her and the other can put her legs on top of her. Then she can sit upright for the night, resting her forehead on the chair in front of her. Sweet. Then, the row behind us collectively began a loud and painful-sounding vomiting episode, and we still had 14 hours to go. At that point, Cooper helpfully remarked, “My friends are all on the beach in Hawaii right now.” My mom decided that was a good time to launch into one of her unbidden life-lectures. The key, she said in life, was to keep needs low, expectations moderate, and dreams big. To Cooper, any difference among these three nouns is nuanced, arguably undetectable. He believes needs = expectations = dreams = big, with variables such as dream = NBA versus dream = US Open, subject to sudden and irrefutable change without notice. Life should be sweet and stimulating. All the time. Party, party, party. This means most of reality often falls short. His hope, though, never fades.
Going in, we didn’t fear the animals, the long flight, or the foreign language (Australian); we feared the school uniforms. The day before departure, Devon made a last minute appeal to ditch the trip entirely because of this unfathomable constraint. The day before school began, I learned that mine was a plaid wool onesie dress, complemented with a floppy sun hat. I resembled five-year old Bindi. The boys stopped grumbling quickly after they put theirs on though, as jacket and tie uniforms made them look older and almost respectable. And then they would open their mouths.
There were so many high points though; here are a few:
- All Australians. They are 1,000 times braver than any American. Exhibit 1: their perspective on snakes. When you see one, no worries, just: “Man up. Get used to it. Don’t overthink it. You don’t want to get paranoid about these things.” If you do find yourself ‘overthinking’ a snake in your path, at least make yourself useful by knowing the three categories:
- Diamond Python: “No problem, you can handle it.”
- Red Belly Black: “Wouldn’t pick it up, but you could survive.”
- King Brown: “Don’t think about it.” (As in, there’s no point, you definitely will die).
- Cultural Norms and Behaviors. Many people don’t have cars so as to “protect the earth” and “be healthy.” As a result, you see a lot of people biking, running and walking as you whiz by them in your taxi.
- Tim Tams, the would-be love child of an Oreo and Reese’s.
- Russell Crowe. Mom kept peeking out the window to catch a glimpse of Russell, which sounds crazy until I tell you we lived next door to him, and then it just sounds lightly criminal.
- Family time. We learned new things about each other, all the time. For example, Coop and Devon made ground rules for parents (mom) for where they (she) can post pictures of the trip. Here they are:
- Snapchat: Never. It’s not for you. It’s embarrassing to hear you mention it. Please stop.
- Instagram: One post every three days. If you post more, you clearly don’t have a life which is embarrassing. Also, leave the photo captionless. Whenever you try to write captions, it always comes out awkward/wrong. Also, it goes unsaid but don’t write a comment. Never ever use an emoji.
- Facebook: Always. Go nuts. Knock yourself out. You can post literally anything anytime on FB. It’s like a cruise ship, an experience for grandparents only.
In other updates, I’ve converted my gymnastics momentum into yoga prowess, and am on track toward my goal of being the youngest certified instructor ever! At first, Cooper decided that anything I could do, he could do more nimbly and louder. After a Taraksvasana (handstand scorpion) that apparently wasn’t as easy as I made it look, he’s decided tennis takes more skill and is more fun. Also, yoga is really just lazy people finding new and uncomfortable ways to be still.
It’s not really a sport, but Cooper and Devon have taken up golf. Devon because he stopped ignoring Papa’s compliments on his long drives, while learning how to tune out his accurate, if constant advice on how to improve Devon’s putting game. It’s just another thing that Coop takes naturally to and is supported by the fact that cool people like Steph and Obama play it. So golf isn’t just boring business guys doing boring business deals – though he believes that such boring activities will be useful in the future.
Never without projects, my Dad is converting our toolshed into a clubhouse/disco because he has run out of things to connect and automate. My mom will enjoy it because the mess inside it will not visible to her. For Devon, this clubhouse will serve as a peaceful oasis outside the fishing limits of casual familial interlopers. He enjoys walking around without a shirt on; this place will actually be appropriate for that. I will enjoy it for singing while doing yoga; I call it yoga-singing. Cooper will ignore the clubhouse then forget it’s there at all. After a month or a year, he will stumble on it for the first time and be amazed, then never go down there again, but will remember it when he needs to hide candy. And then it will become a party, party, party.
We are grateful for all we have, for all of you, and for all the love and light in the world. Here is to keeping needs low and dreams big.