Living Vicariously

Vicariously.

This is not a word I use often. When I hear this word I think of one thing: parents living vicariously through their children. Most of us would agree this is not a great idea, but we do it anyway.

As a big tennis fan, I couldn’t wait for Jessie to pick up a tennis racquet. At two weeks old – yes, two weeks – Jessie was holding a miniature tennis racquet, with a little assistance from Dad.

At six weeks, I converted a beach play set into a tennis practice facility by replacing a stuffed, dangling sea horse with a tennis-ball lamp pull. A little creativity and Velcro and it worked like a charm. I can still remember my exuberance as I watched Jessie hit the tiny tennis ball with her miniature tennis racquet. It’s never too early to practice eye-hand coordination.

Even though I knew Jessie was going to be a tennis player, dominating the mixed-doubles daddy-daughter circuit, my wife and I introduced Jessie to all kinds of activities: basketball, soccer, archery, swimming, volleyball, softball, and my wife’s favorite – the beach. But deep down, I was confident Jessie would come back to Dad’s, err, I mean Jessie’s, first passion – tennis. Our future would be filled with quality time together on the courts and we’d win numerous tennis trophies, of course.

Then Jessie asked to take dance lessons. I was fine with this, as all sports require good balance, something ballet would provide. It’s time to get Jessie’s perspective.

Jessie, Age 12

Pointe Shoes: Years of training, practicing technique, and gaining strength lead up to this. Nope, these were definitely not the thoughts that were going through Dad’s mind as he told the shop owner helping me with my first pair of pointe shoes that I would have been better off playing tennis. Dad winced as the man fitting my pointe shoes told my dad the consequences of taking pointe.

“We’re looking for the pair that is the least uncomfortable. Feet weren’t meant to do this. We’re smashing her toes into a box. We’re looking for the shoes that will damage her feet the least.”

I have danced for five years. (This year is my sixth.) I have pushed myself to be a better dancer. I was excited to learn at the end of last dance year that I made it on pointe. I eventually did find a pair of pointe shoes I can wear, and Mom sewed the ribbons on them.

Pointe classes started a few weeks ago and they are going well. I can’t say it’s the most comfortable thing I’ve ever tried, but it’s ok, and I think it is making me a better dancer. I am glad that I have the opportunity to take these classes and think I will become more used to my feet being stuffed into a box. Now, let’s hear what Dad has to say.

What can dad say? I pictured myself taking Jessie shopping for high-performance tennis shoes. An hour-and-a-half pointe-shoe fitting isn’t my idea of a great time.

Hours of playing basketball, one-on-one, in the driveway. Games of PIG and Around the World.

Tossing softballs back and forth in the yard, chasing after the hundreds that missed their target. Tossing thousands of rubber balls on the roof of the house so Jessie could catch them in her ball glove when they bounced off. Batting practice in the front yard.

Tapping volleyballs back and forth, counting consecutive hits before the ball hit the ground.

Soccer and archery camps.

Swimming lessons.

Did I mention tennis lessons?

Out of all the activities Jessie could have pursued long-term, she chose to stick her pretty feet into a box that smashes her toes as she awkwardly tries to stand on the tips. Dad and daughter won’t be posing with tennis trophies any time soon.

The other night, though, as I stared through the window of Jessie’s dance class and watched her move across the floor with grace and beauty and a beaming smile on her face, it hit me. I’m living vicariously through Jessie – on the dance floor in pointe shoes!

Jessie is following her heart and enjoying life with zest and passion. She doesn’t need to have sneakers on her feet and a racquet in her hand. She’s loving life, which is exactly what we all should do with each day we’re granted.

But whether Jessie is spinning gracefully in her pointe shoes or hitting a tennis ball back to Dad (still hoping), one thing is certain ’tween daughter and dad, I love my girl and my girl loves me.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments. To all the hard-working moms out there, Happy Mother’s Day!

A Short Drive to Fifteen

“Dad, may I borrow the car keys?” This question is not far off as my daughter, Jessie, wants to drive as soon as possible.

During summer trips to her grandparents’ farm, Jessie has enjoyed driving their golf cart up and down their farm lane and through the fields. Jessie likes to put the pedal to the metal. She hits the potholes in both the dirt road and the fields and turns the wheel so sharply that passengers must hang on or bounce out. I rationalized, though, that her experience driving a golf cart would make it more comfortable for me to eventually turn the car keys over to her. Now that the time is getting closer, I’m pretty sure that won’t be the case. Jessie, what are your thoughts about driving?

Jessie, Age 12
I can’t wait to drive! I plan to get my learner’s permit on my fifteenth birthday, so that on my sixteenth birthday I can get my driver’s license. I think it would be good for me to drive as I can drive myself to school and dance. I can also make the occasional trip to the supermarket to pick up groceries. Dad doesn’t want me to drive. He would be immensely scared with his baby behind the wheel. He doesn’t plan to let me get my license until I am much older. I would save him time by being able to drive. Now let’s get back to Dad to hear his point of view.

Even though I might not like it, I’m proud that Jessie has goals and the confidence to go after them. Yet, Jessie writes that I still think of her as my “baby.” Even though she has grown into a wonderful young lady, it’s hard for me to adjust seeing her that way. The time went too fast.

It seems not long ago I was strapping her into her car seat in the back of the vehicle. Before I knew it, she was big enough to ride in front with me. I like this arrangement, because it’s easier for us to talk as I chauffer her to and from her activities. She likes it, too, as she has become dictator of the car radio from the front passenger seat. Yet, in a little over two years, it will be time for me to move to the passenger seat, and she’ll replace me behind the wheel.

In my heart I know this is the right way for things to go. She is a responsible young lady and as a responsible parent I need to help her grow into an independent adult, not hold her back because I miss her younger years. But my brain races to find valid excuses to delay.

“Jessie, you’re too short.” No, she already stands 5’6”. Dang, why did she have to have such a tall dad? “Your feet are too small.” No, her feet are longer than her mother’s and can cover the gas pedal and brake with ease. I’m out of luck using Jessie’s physical attributes as an excuse to delay driving.

I could use a physical attribute for me. “Jessie, your dad’s heart is too weak to teach you to drive.” No, my resourceful daughter would simply find a different adult to sit beside her while she drives with her learner’s permit. Her mom would even enjoy it.

Jessie’s a good student, so I can’t use her grades as an excuse. And she’s pretty good about doing her chores. Maybe I could get my wife, Mattie, to object? No, that would never happen. Jessie gets her independence from her mother, who talked her parents into letting her get her learner’s permit and driver’s license at the earliest possible age. Plus, I want to take the high road … just a road that doesn’t have my daughter behind the wheel.

Jessie will always be my baby whether she’s 15, 16, 18, or middle-aged. For now, I’m just going to enjoy the tween years. There’s still time before I switch seats with her. At least when that happens, I’ll get to pick the songs on the radio as Jessie will have both her hands on the steering wheel – in the 10 and 2 o’clock position.

But no matter who drives or changes the music, one thing is certain ’tween daughter and dad, I love my girl and my girl loves me.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments.

The Flour Attack

“Dad, can we make St. Patrick’s Day cookies?” My daughter, Jessie, made this simple request on a day off from school. How could I say no, especially since I know how much she enjoys baking?

I mentally tasted the delicious sugar cookies topped with green icing and sprinkles that Jessie envisioned. Less appetizing was the thought of the clean-up. It seems like Jessie always asks to bake just after I’ve vacuumed the floors. I knew Jessie would have fun and the cookies would taste great. I also knew that by the time the last hot cookie emerged from the oven my kitchen would look like a tornado hit. Although Jessie loves to create, experiment, and taste, she doesn’t love to clean up the resulting mess.

If I said yes to Jessie’s request, I had two choices for my role in the project. I could assist (Jessie likes to be the head chef) and enjoy quality daddy-daughter time with her. Alternatively, I could stay out of the way, knowing that I probably wouldn’t have the patience to stay gone long enough for her to finish the clean-up.

Jessie had already pulled up a sugar cookie recipe on her phone. It was too late to introduce a different plan. I helped Jessie collect the required ingredients from the pantry and the cabinet above the stove. Surprisingly, we had them all, even a full can of baking powder, so I couldn’t use missing ingredients as an excuse to say, “Oh, we can’t do this project today.”

Since I had a cold and a headache, I went with Option 2 and said, “Jessie, I’m going to take a nap and let you start.”

While I nap, let’s get Jessie’s opinion on a messy kitchen.

Jessie, Age 12
I like to cook and bake. Dad cooks while I am in school, at dance, or doing homework. I lead a busy life. Sometimes though, I get the rare chance to mess around in the kitchen and can’t wait to make something good. The problem with that is … I leave a mess. I am tired from cooking or baking, and why not? I have gone to all the work to make something to share. If Dad gets to eat it, he could help me clean up in the kitchen. I have been doing better lately though. I try to put away my ingredients, so they leave the counter free and easy to wipe down when I am done. Now, let’s get back to Dad to get his view on my messy kitchen.

When I awoke from my nap, my headache felt better, but my kitchen was now in pain. On the positive side, no egg slime was running down the side of the cabinets, a small improvement over prior baking days. Jessie had put some ingredients away and even washed a few dishes. However, my celebration was short-lived as I observed what looked like a food fight had taken place with flour used as the weapon. My kitchen won the battle with egg slime but lost the war with flour. The coffee maker and oven were casualties. The coffee maker’s “On” button had been suffocated. A flour bomb had exploded near the front of the stove, covering the floor, oven door, and two of the stove burners with flour shrapnel. Flour lay in piles on each side of the kitchen sink and the counter space to the left of the oven.

During the next couple of hours, Jessie, my wife, and I rolled out the dough, baked cookies, and decorated them. When we were done, cleanup took a long time, but we had fun and enjoyed the cookies, which were as delicious in real life as they had been in my imagination.

Again in the future Jessie will ask, “Dad, can we make cookies?” And again, of course, I’ll say “Yes.” However, I’ll pass on the nap, even if I have a headache. It’s helpful to have a lookout on duty for surprise flour attacks.

But whether my kitchen is spotless or covered in flour, sugar, and egg slime, one thing is certain ’tween daughter and dad, I love my girl and my girl loves me.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments. 

Savor the Moments

Savor. It’s a feel-good verb – like love. I love chocolate. I love ice cream. I love the thrill of victory. More accurately, I love my wife and daughter. I savor chocolate, ice cream, and victorious tennis matches.

We savor lots of things. Foods. Drinks. Smells. Experiences.

In this hectic world, though, do we always take the time to savor, truly savor, the moments? Recently, my daughter’s reaction to me eating a single piece of fudge taught me that I have room for improvement when it comes to savoring the moments. Here’s her side of the story.

Jessie, Age 12
Today’s topic is about the proper amount of fudge. My mom brought home super great fudge from work and warned Daddy and me to taste just a little bit because it was very rich. I followed her directions and ate a crumb or two at a time. No, I’m not exaggerating. The fudge was super rich, and a tiny piece tasted like a whole piece of candy. I warned Dad about this before he tasted it, but he didn’t listen. He popped a giant piece into his mouth wasting 20 bites. He said he did listen, and he would have eaten a piece three times the size had I not warned him. I wasn’t upset that he tried the fudge, and he ate a reasonable amount. I just thought he could have had the same amount of flavor in each bite and made it last longer. Anyway, let’s hear Dad’s point of view.

The fudge was delicious! I savored my piece, at least I thought I had. And from a man’s perspective, my piece was an appropriate size. I must admit, though, Jessie’s reaction surprised me.

Yesterday, another savoring lesson came into play. My wife, Mattie, had purchased a container of fine chocolates a few days earlier. I walked into the kitchen and noticed a plate on the kitchen counter. The plate contained a single chocolate, cut into eight tiny pieces. I thought about sneaking a piece or two, but I knew where the container was located and could easily grab my own full piece, not one cut into eighths.

The cut-up piece of chocolate tempted me all morning. Each time I walked by, one of the pieces called out to me, but I showed restraint.

When Mattie came into the kitchen, I asked, “Why did you cut the chocolate into eight pieces?

“I want to savor each piece. Plus, there’s a chance I might not eat them all.”

Her logic made sense, however, leaving the candy in plain view of a chocolate-loving man did not. I ended up eating three of the tiny pieces, savoring the taste of each one. Mattie did say that she might not eat them all.

Later, I confessed that I had snatched a few pieces. Mattie said, “I thought my stash looked smaller.”

Here’s the interesting part of my story, though. Having savored those tiny pieces of chocolate, I needed more. I walked into the pantry, pulled down the container, removed the lid, pulled out a piece, and dropped the entire chocolate into my mouth. The chocolate slid down deliciously, no need to cut it into smaller pieces.

Then it hit me. The big piece, though good, was gone. I had enjoyed the three tiny pieces a lot longer. Humm, maybe my wife and daughter’s savor strategy had merit.

Jessie is a busy young lady. Her days are filled with school and extra-curricular activities that often keep her away from us. This leaves Mattie and me hungering for more pieces of her time. We need to savor the smaller pieces we have, driving her to and from, watching from the sidelines, and listening to her describe key parts of her life we miss.

But whether I’m savoring a big moment with Jessie or a few small ones, one thing is certain ’tween daughter and dad, I love my girl and my girl loves me.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments. Happy Valentine’s Day! Savor the moments, and maybe some chocolate, with the ones you love.

Ways to Handle Stress

Parents deal with stress in a variety of ways. Tennis is my stress outlet, along with eating ice cream and donuts. Obviously, playing tennis is a much healthier choice than comfort foods.

Recently, my daughter Jessie came home excited to share a new stress-fighting activity she had heard about – goat yoga. My comfort zone has boundaries, and Jessie keeps trying to expand them. Daily. Before I go further, let’s turn it over to Jessie for her thoughts.

Jessie, Age 12
When my friend at school told me about goat yoga, it sounded like a ton of fun. Basically, you go into a field, and do yoga while a bunch of goats walk around and crawl on you. I came home from school and told my dad about it. To me, doing yoga with goats crawling on you sounded great, but not to Daddy. He’s not an animal person.

I told Mom about it later, and she loves the idea. She and I are a lot alike in our love for animals. When we are going for a family walk, we will walk around and pet all the dogs we pass where Dad would rather avoid them. He’s not mean to dogs, and he loves our dog, Sadie, but dogs just aren’t his thing.

I think Dad should be a little more open minded when it comes to goat yoga and dogs. It is good that we have each other. I get him out of his comfort zone, and he gets me out of mine. It is good to try things, because you never know what you may enjoy. Let’s hear my father’s view.

This father’s view is quite simple. I have no intention of ever having my view obstructed by goat legs, tails, or any other goat anatomical parts. Having goats bleating and crawling on and around me while I do yoga doesn’t interest me in the least.

However, Jessie raised a good point about the importance of keeping an open mind. Not knowing a single thing about goat yoga, I Googled it. I was surprised to read about the mental and physical benefits of goat yoga. Those who do it say it’s a great way of disconnecting from stress. Did I close my mind too soon?

Our lives are shaped by our personal experiences. My only experience with a goat came many years ago, when my wife, Mattie, and I were dating. Her parents were away and it was our responsibility to milk the family goat. We should have asked for directions because how to milk a goat is not as obvious as it seems. There’s a technique to getting the milk to squirt out instead of just squishing around, which the goat finds highly irritating. It’s safe to say that Mattie’s goat was not a therapy goat, which is probably why I no longer wish to be up close and personal with goats.

In response to Jessie’s comment “dogs just aren’t his thing,” I feel I must share my first teenage job – a newspaper carrier. Dogs have a special animosity for newspaper carriers. Luckily, I made it through several years of home newspaper delivery while avoiding the angry guardians of their owners’ property, except for one. I have a tiny scar on my left leg to show for my dedicated service.

With my hard-to-milk goat and dog-chasing-after-me experiences, it’s safe to say I’m not as comfortable around goats and dogs as my wife and daughter. Also, when I take a walk, I like to get my circulation pumping instead of stopping every three seconds to pet a dog, no matter how cute it is (Mattie and Jessie think all dogs are cute).

Which leads me to Jessie’s final point, “It is good that we have each other.” On this point I couldn’t agree more. Jessie and I have helped each other expand our comfort zones. Our family is also blessed in that Mattie and I have different interests that benefit Jessie. I can already see the smiles on Jessie’s and Mattie’s faces when they go work out with the goats. I’ll have a smile on my face, too, as a nearby spectator enjoying my cone of ice cream.

But whether I’m cheering on my goat-yoga exercisers or relaxing with a three-scoop cone of ice cream, one thing is certain ’tween daughter and dad, I love my girl and my girl loves me.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments. Happy New Year! Good luck in achieving your New Year’s resolutions. Doing goat yoga won’t be on my list, but I will try to monitor the ice cream intake. All parents need ways to handle stress.

Music to my Ears

Jessie and I have different tastes in music. With Jessie now almost a teenager, she often rides in the front seat of the car. As a result, control over the car radio has become an issue. Jessie calls it, “channel chaos.” Let’s begin with her thoughts.

Jessie, Age 12
Today, we have been talking about the difference in opinion that Dad and I have in the best type of music to listen to in the car. Dad likes Christian music, and don’t get me wrong, I do too, but I have other preferences. I like listening to today’s pop and country. As soon as I get in the car, I change the station to pop or country. That’s not exactly Dad’s thing, but he puts up with it.

Another reason he should feel inclined to change is that I recently rode in the car with my granddaddy. I realized that the station he was listening to was one of the pop stations I listen to! I asked him if he wanted me to change the station, as I figured it wasn’t his thing, but he wanted to keep it on that channel. Later, I told Dad that Granddaddy was ahead on the new music, and he wasn’t. I figured that would convince him to enjoy my music, but it didn’t. Now, let’s get back to Dad. I am sure he will have something to say about this.

I do have something to say, and it’s not that I’m afraid that Granddaddy is more hip than I am. First, when Jessie said she changes the radio station to “pop or country,” she neglected to breakdown the percent of time she chooses each. I like country music, but this is a small fraction in comparison to her pop choices.

Apparently, pop is a pretty broad category. The Barry Manilow ballads I enjoyed as a teenager sounded a lot different than the rapping stuff Jessie likes. When I listen to music, I want to understand the words.

I have no problem that Jessie and her granddaddy have similar tastes in music, though I doubt he would like everything she plays. Let them rock on with quality grandfather-granddaughter visits.

Jessie’s phrase that bothers me is, “As soon as I get in the car, I change the station.” Somehow, Jessie has become dictator of the radio. As soon as the ignition key turns, Jessie’s index finger hits the radio scan-seek button, pressing it at warp speed, until she finds a song to her liking.

Jessie has a strong personality, like her mother, and is a take-charge kind of person, also like her mom. However, I’m still Dad, so though I often give Jessie great leeway in music selection, volume, and frequency, I can still set boundaries. Okay, Jessie might be able to extend those boundaries by twinkling her pretty eyes, but I don’t want her favorite artists to replace communication with Dad.

Several weeks ago, Jessie and I drove home from a visit with her grandparents. As soon as we got in the car, Jessie reached for the radio button.

“No, let’s talk for a while.”

We talked throughout the half-hour trip home. No radio.

As I parked the car, I said, “Wow, we talked the whole way home! Wasn’t that great?”

It turns out the chat was more exciting to me than her. But quality communication time with Jessie is something I don’t want to lose.

With a daughter who loves all kinds of music, I’m confident music will continue to fill our days. Some of the time I’ll like her choices and sing along. Other times, I’ll tell Jessie to turn down the volume, change the station, or I’ll do it myself. She might be faster, but I’m still capable of operating all parts of my vehicle. And there will be more times when the radio will stay off and we’ll talk. Who knows, depending on the topic of conversation, I might be the one who wants to hit the radio button and turn up the volume. Tween girls can be more difficult to understand than rapping pop music.

But whether our car trips are filled with music or conversation, or conversation about music, one thing is certain ’tween daughter and dad, I love my girl and my girl loves me. That love will show in our daddy-daughter talks. I might not like everything I hear, but more times than not, our conversations will be music to my ears.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments. Happy Holidays! Enjoy listening to some of your favorite songs during the holiday season.

The Joy of Letters

I wish joy filled every moment of Jessie’s life, but children, like their parents, must overcome difficulties. Two major challenges Jessie has faced in her young life come to mind. The first was when Jessie’s beloved dog, Ginger, died. Ginger was Jessie’s “sister” and wore as many outfits as Jessie’s Barbie dolls. Jessie didn’t just cry, she wailed.

The other time Jessie’s tears flowed faster than the tissues could keep up occurred when my wife, Mattie, and I broke the news that we were moving to a new state. Jessie knew this meant her relationship with her friends, the only friends she had ever known, would change. Of course, Mattie and I emphasized the positives of the move: a good career opportunity, closer to family (some readers might not see this as a positive), and a chance for Jessie to meet new friends. All Jessie cared about when we pulled the rug out from under her young life was that she would miss her current friends.

I understood, as I didn’t want to move either. Switching from a manual toothbrush to an electric one is too much of an adjustment for me. I’m not a big fan of change and, from experience, I knew a move was a major one – and a big headache.

Mattie and I tried to convince Jessie that she would eventually be happy. “You can write letters, text, and Instagram.” Even with that said, Jessie’s stuffed animals continued to collect her tears.

I’ve always heard, “Kids adjust to change much quicker than adults.” From what I’ve seen, this is true. The transition to a new state and school went well for Jessie, but I’ll let her share her thoughts.

Jessie, Age 12
I moved from Statesboro, Georgia, at the end of last summer. I have found out that it is easier than ever to contact your friends via text, email, or social media, but of all the forms of long-distance communication, receiving good old-fashioned letters is my favorite. I go to the mailbox every day excited to see if any of my pen pals wrote.

I also enjoy writing letters. I have a huge tub full of cards and stationery. I also enjoy thinking about the happiness receiving letters brings to others. I have saved all the letters I have received since I moved to Florida. They are special to me. I hope I have convinced you why it’s good to write letters as well as taking advantage of today’s technology. Now let’s get back to Dad.

Of course, a piece of paper, card, or electronic post isn’t the same as an in-person hug – or dog love, but I’ll choose mail over wail anytime. Though I like to get the mail when it arrives, I wait for Jessie until she gets home from school. My reward, other than not receiving bills earlier in the day, is to see Jessie running with a card in her outstretched arm. I can always tell when she receives a letter from one of her friends, not only because she waves it high in the air, but also from her big smile.

We live in a changing, challenged-filled world. It’s great when we have family and friends to share the good times as well as the not-so-good ones. I don’t write as many letters as I once did, but Jessie is right – there is joy in both sending and receiving cards and letters. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll write a letter to a friend or family member to say how much I like my electric toothbrush, though I doubt it.

But whether Jessie or I are sending letters or receiving them, one thing is certain ’tween daughter and dad, I love my girl and my girl loves me.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments. Happy Thanksgiving! If you can’t celebrate Thanksgiving with loved ones in person, a hand-written letter is a great way to express your love and thanks.

Dad Has Gone Crazy!

My daughter, Jessie, loves to try new things and when she does, she wants me to try them with her. I’ll admit change is not one of my strengths. As I get older, change gets even harder. I probably would have titled this column, “Dad and Change Don’t Always Get Along,” but instead rolled with my coauthor Jessie’s title suggestion.

Let’s get her side of the story before my rebuttal, which I’ll need for this one.

Jessie, Age 12
Dad has gone crazy! Recently, we purchased a two-pack of electric toothbrushes. I read the directions, and then began using my new toothbrush. I convinced Daddy to try his. I showed him how you use it, and he began. After about 3 seconds, Dad turned the power level down to the lowest it could go. Then he began mumbling, “I hate this. I hate this.” With the toothbrush in his mouth though, it sounded more like, “I ate is. I ate is.”

Momma also convinced him to try a Waterpik she had purchased. To put it simply, same reaction. It has been a little over a week since then, and he is still complaining he has a toothache. He says he got it because his ears heard a sound like a drill, and it wasn’t time for his quarterly dentist visit. Anyway, I have a crazy dad. Now let’s hear his side of the story.

Jessie’s narrative is accurate, except for the “crazy dad” part. My wife, Mattie, witnessed it, too. I can sum my thoughts up in ten words, Give me my manual toothbrush and pack of dental floss. I can take care of my teeth the old-fashioned way. Aside from the noise, I didn’t like the spinning brush scraping my gum lines.

Several weeks have passed since my bathroom drama, and I haven’t retried the electric toothbrush and Waterpik. Though I promised Jessie I would try it again one day, I didn’t say when.

Having two crowned molars, one of them that’s sensitive on occasion, my goal is to avoid root canals. Why stress out my tooth nerves (or my mental nerves) with a toothbrush that sounds like a drill, when I can care for my teeth quietly?

My Waterpik experience didn’t go any better than Jessie’s description of the oscillating toothbrush. Like the electric toothbrush, it made noise. Furthermore, I don’t need a stream of water with the pressure of a fire hose spewing into my mouth. Water sprayed everywhere, including the bathroom mirror. A busy dad shouldn’t have to clean the bathroom and put on a dry shirt as part of his oral hygiene routine. Okay, maybe there’s a learning curve and with experience I’d do better directing the water flow. Maybe someday I could come to like the Waterpik.

Crazy? I prefer to say, “Set in my ways.” With that said, I want to be a good role model for Jessie, so I must keep an open mind.

When Jessie doesn’t like the taste of a new food, her mom and I ask her to give it a second try. I should do the same with things Jessie asks me to try. I’ll give my electric toothbrush and Waterpik another chance … someday.

Until my tooth stops hurting, though, I’m content with my manual toothbrush and clean mint floss taking food particles away. But whether I’m caring for my teeth the old-fashioned way or with the aid of new gadgets, one thing is certain ’tween daughter and dad, I love my girl and my girl loves me.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments. Happy Halloween. After eating candy, brush your teeth well – with whatever toothbrush makes you happy.

The Dramatic Performance

Parenting is hard work.

One of the tough parts is that parents never know when the next pop quiz is coming – and there are lots of pop quizzes. Recently, I had the opportunity to take a “Nail File Pop Quiz.” It wasn’t one of my proudest parenting moments, and maybe I should have walked away, but instead I charged into the quiz. Looking back, I tried to earn bonus points by adding a dramatic performance. I’ll let Jessie share her side of the story first.

Jessie, Age 12
Dad said, “She’s been stepping over it like …”

Then Dad (badly) kicked his leg up high in the air pretending to step over an imaginary nail file.

First, I didn’t make a big deal out of it.

Second, I don’t know anyone who steps over a nail file while kicking their leg up to their hips. His knee was bent; he’s not really that flexible. It must have been a really large nail file.

Third, I may have been procrastinating picking it up, but I definitely wasn’t stepping over it for the fun of not picking it up as he reenacted for my mother and me. He portrayed me stepping over the nail file multiple times just for the fun of it.

So, let’s start from the beginning. A couple of days ago, I dropped my nail file on the floor in my bathroom and failed to pick it up. I figured I would do it later. Apparently, that was when Dad started his experiment. He waited until night, and then decided to give up and pick it up. He had it in his hand, but then decided, no. He ended up moving the nail file to the middle of the doorway. Apparently, I waited another day until I bent down to pet my dog, Sadie, at which time it was handy, so I picked it up. It was 11:01 at night, and Daddy yelled, “Finally!” That was when I found out, and well, you know the rest. Now back to Dad for his side of the story.

 

For two days, Jessie’s nail file greeted me each time I walked into her bathroom. I almost picked it up several times on Day One. As Jessie noted, I did pick it up at the end of the first day, but thought, No, this is a learning opportunity. It’s not my responsibility to pick up Jessie’s nail file. I placed the file about a foot inside the entrance to Jessie’s bathroom. Jessie couldn’t walk into her bathroom without stepping on or over it or kicking it.

So yes, when Jessie picked it up a minute after 11 p.m. on Day Two, Dad was primed for a discussion. Jessie calls them lectures.

I entertained Mattie and Jessie with my dramatic performance of a 6’5” father stepping over a nail file. Did I win an Oscar? No. Did I pull a hamstring with my high step? Thankfully not. Did Jessie grasp my point that when you drop something, pick it up in a timely manner? I’m confident she did.

Teaching is part of a parent’s job description. And though I’m immensely proud of my daughter and the hard work she puts forth most of the time, “Not yet, but soon” (a response to chores that’s a common joke in the family) wasn’t going to fly this time.

Upon reflection on Jessie’s perspective, though, maybe she had a valid point. Did she just teach me a lesson on good time management? She didn’t waste time bending over to pick up the nail file until she could multi-task. She did pick it up eventually and petting the dog made the chore more enjoyable. Dang these pop quizzes!

But whether Jessie is on the student end of the lesson or the teacher side (yes, parents can learn a lot from their kids), one thing is certain ’tween daughter and dad, I love my girl and my girl loves me.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments.

A Balance in Life

“It’s all about a balance in life.”

My daughter, Jessie, has heard me say this often. We all face the daily challenge of finding that right balance between work and play – while incorporating a block of time for sleep.

Jessie has always excelled at getting the most out of her days. She stopped taking naps after age two. My wife, Mattie, and I now face a surprising challenge from her zest to maximize her days, one so simple, I can’t believe I’m writing about it.

“Jessie, please replace the toilet tissue when the roll runs out.” Jessie’s stated reason for her repeated failure to do this is, “It wastes time in my life that I’ll never get back.” She plops the new roll on top of the empty cardboard tube still on the holder, and lets Dad put the new roll on the spool. Apparently, time that Dad will never get back is more expendable.

Somehow, the girl who won’t take naps or replace the toilet tissue roll is about to enter 7th Grade. I’m confident Jessie will have a great school year; however, her packed schedule concerns me. Will she have a proper balance in her life? I’ll let her fill you in on her upcoming plans.

Jessie, Age 12

I am going to be juggling schoolwork, dance, clarinet, saxophone, and family the upcoming school year. I will have to learn how to save time where I can, while keeping up the grades, learning saxophone, keeping up with clarinet, spending time with family, and dancing. I am excited that I can have the opportunities to pursue many different outlets. I am very grateful that I get to skip a year of band and go into the highest band at my school. I’m also going to learn alto saxophone to play in the jazz band.

Dance is also a big part of my life. I will dance 3 or 4 days a week after school.

Next, I have schoolwork, homework, and studying. I will be in challenging classes at my school and need to make sure I keep up my grades.

Finally, it is important to spend quality time with my family. Now, back to Dad.

Jessie will keep busy indeed and will need to wisely manage her time among her various activities. Jessie forgot to mention that in addition to learning a new instrument, the alto saxophone, she will be taking her first pointe class. She’ll not only be squeezing a load of classes and activities into her daily schedule, but also squishing her feet into the box of tight-fitting pointe shoes and twirling around on her toes. Talk about working hard at balance.

I’m glad Jessie recognizes that she’ll need “to learn how to save time.” May I suggest quicker showers as a good starting point.

Mattie and I know, too, that our soon-to-be-teenager will spend more time with friends in the years ahead. How much time will she have left for her parents after school, dance, and music? Let’s hope Jessie remembers her last sentence, “It is important to spend quality time with my family.”

Like Jessie, Mattie and I need to focus on how we spend our time. Mattie keeps a hectic schedule with her work. I wear lots of hats, too, not only as a writer, but also as a stay-at-home dad and husband. Finding that right balance is a daily challenge. “Mattie, could I hire a personal assistant?”

But whether Jessie is spinning across the dance floor, playing one of her two instruments, or earning good grades, one thing is certain ’tween daughter and dad, I love my girl and my girl loves me. I promise, too, that this stay-at-home dad, without a personal assistant, will make sure the house contains an adequate supply of toilet tissue. However, Jessie’s on her own when it comes to replacing the empty roll. I can’t waste any time in my life, either. Like she says, you can’t get it back.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments.