“I Need a Bra!”

“Mom, I need a bra.”

If I had a son, I’d buy him a jock strap when he needed one and life would move on. However, bra shopping falls under my wife’s job description. The only problem is that Mattie, my wife, and Jessie, my 10-year-old daughter, are on opposite sides of the fence about whether Jessie is old enough to need one – and poor Dad, aging way too fast, is stuck in the middle.

Up to this point, I’ve tried to keep a low profile and hoped this whole topic would blow over. However, a few weeks ago it became clear that it wouldn’t. Jessie went to her room with a needle, thread, scissors, and a pair of cotton pants she wore as a toddler. Grandmommy, a good teacher, recently showed her granddaughter how to sew, and Jessie, a quick study, cut the pants and sewed them into a makeshift bra.

When Mattie came home from work, Jessie modeled her new bra for her mom. Mattie and I were both impressed with her resourcefulness. Mattie, enjoying the debate, praised Jessie’s tenacity, but told her she still didn’t need a bra.

“Mattie, we can’t let Jessie go to school wearing a pair of pants as a bra,” I countered. No dad wants a phone call from the principal saying his daughter’s sewing came undone, and she’s upset that the pants she wore as a bra are no longer keeping things in place.

As I drove Jessie to school the following morning, the bra topic came up again. Jessie would also like another dog. Just to find out how badly she really wanted a bra, I posed the question, “Jessie, if you could get a new dog or a new bra, which would you choose?”

Jessie responded, “I’d choose the bra, because I have no chance for another dog.”

I smiled at her clever and accurate response. Then I took my questioning one step further. “Jessie, if I’d be willing to buy either one, which would you like more?”

“Dad, I’d like a Havanese wearing lots of bras in my size … and neon.”

So how did we resolve this difference? No, I don’t have a Havanese running around the house in neon-colored bras.

With Mattie and Jessie still debating … and the problem growing, faster in Jessie’s eyes than Mattie’s, there was only one logical thing to do – ask Grandmommy for advice. It seemed logical to ask Mattie’s mom since her sewing lesson got us into this predicament. Not to mention, Grandmommy is my emergency hotline and it was time, way past time, to call.

Grandmommy talked with Jessie. Then she spoke with Mattie and proposed a win-win solution – a bra-shopping day with her granddaughter. At the end of their special grandmother-granddaughter shopping excursion, Jessie came bursting through the door, anxious to show her mom and me the new treasures Grandmommy purchased for her – four colorful bras, including both regular and sports.

Grandmommy saved the day! Mattie and I were both happy that Jessie and her grandmother had this special time together, a shopping trip they’ll always remember. And I’m glad the school principal won’t be calling me.

Jessie’s perspective on the right time to buy a bra can be summed up in one word – Now. This answer is likely different for each family. For mine, it was, “When Grandmommy says so.”

Life is back to normal … with only a few extra bras in the laundry basket. On occasion, when I fall behind with laundry, Jessie will hand wash her bras. She’ll sling them over the shower curtain rod to dry. I’m just thankful she’s not strapping them onto the dog, well, not too many times so far.

But whether bras are drying from the shower-curtain rod or collecting in the laundry basket, 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! I’m thankful for all my blessings … especially the women in my life, Jessie, Mattie, and Grandmommy.

“The 5th Graders are Coming!”

History. We can learn a lot from it. An inventor’s idea that proved successful. A leader’s decision that changed the world. Other stories where the nice guy, or gal, finished first. Conversely, history includes wars, the Great Depression, and things we’d just as soon not have to explain to our children.

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve sheltered Jessie from select topics. However, as she reminds me, all the time, she is ten. My wife and I allow her to read the newspaper and can’t clip out all the stories we wish her young eyes didn’t have to see. It’s better, though, to get an explanation of an upsetting current event from Mom or Dad than from a fourth-grade classmate. Still, my inclination is to wrap my arms around her, to fight her battles, and yes, to shelter her.

Battles and challenges closer to home can pop up any time. One day on the drive home from school, Jessie said the 4th graders (her class) were having trouble with some 5th grade boys interrupting their game at recess. My first thought was, I’ll go to school tomorrow and you won’t need to worry about those fifth-grade bullies. Okay, I didn’t really think that, but my initial reaction focused on “Dad to the rescue.”

I suggested that maybe she could gain the assistance of a fifth-grade girl, but finished the conversation with, “I’m sure you’ll work it out.” Jessie knows that tattling is not looked upon favorably, by her parents, teachers, or fellow classmates, so she felt she was in a bit of a tight spot. At this point, I’ll let Jessie share her story.

    Jessie, Age 10
    Hi all. We’ve been having a little bit of a fight with some of the 5th graders at school this year. We get outside before them. When they get recess, they come tearing out to the four square. Now, I don’t have anything against 5th graders, but I don’t believe that they should ruin our game. I don’t mind if they join us, but they change the rules. One 5th grader said, “You can spike the ball to the other 5th graders, but not to these little weaklings.”

    Day after day, the 5th graders took over until finally, one of my best friends and I made a plan for a protest. In Social Studies, we are learning about when American colonists are mad at the British for having to pay unfair taxes. That’s how all my friends and I feel. The 5th graders are forcing us to play by unfair rules or quit. So the words that the colonists said were, “No taxation without representation.” We decided to come up with a protest to rhyme with that.

    Finally, after some hard thinking, my friend said, “I’ve got it.” Though it was my friend’s idea, she didn’t want to join in the protest. So I, by myself, stood in the middle of the four-square game shouting, “No spiketation without rules of the nation!” Now my protest may not have worked, but that’s not the point of this column. My point is to stick up for what you believe in, even when it means humiliating yourself in front of a whole bunch of tough fifth-grade boys. I was not embarrassed at all, however, because I knew that I had stood up for what I believed in. That made me proud.

When I picked Jessie up from school the day after hearing about her four-square frustrations, I asked, “How was recess?” She proudly told me about what she called her “one-woman protest.” My chest puffed out as she described the events on the playground that day. When we arrived home, we called her mom, who was seriously proud, too. Jessie might not have changed the world, or even recess, but she stood up for herself, her friends, and her sense of fair play.

But whether Jessie is leading a protest or all is well in the world (at least during recess), 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 Pencil Marks

Pop, Pop, Pop, Pop, Pop. Our daughter, Jessie, received a toy corn popper for her first birthday. She had a blast pushing it over the rugs and floors of our house. With each push, colored balls would jump inside the clear plastic bubble and make popping sounds. It wasn’t the quietest toy she ever owned, but my wife, Mattie, and I loved to watch her play with it. She often pretended to vacuum or mow the grass, sometimes “working” beside me as I did the real thing. I miss those pop-filled moments.

I only need to look at the pencil marks in our doorway to see that I no longer have a toddler. According to the recent mark that Mattie etched on the white-painted door frame, Jessie, age 10, measures 5’ 1 ½.” As her body and brain grow, so does her desire for more freedom and responsibilities. Lately, she’s been asking, “Dad, can I help mow the lawn?”

Over the past months, Dad’s response has been, “No, you’re too young. I don’t want you to cut off your toes.” I realize at some point, I need to change this “No” to “Okay, but these are the rules,” though I’m not rushing it. Hey, at least I’m not telling her, “Go play with your popper.”

I’ve always push-mowed the lawn, which I view as good exercise and great for tennis conditioning. Though Jessie has offered her mowing services several times, I’d rather she focus on other responsibilities, like earning good grades, keeping her room picked up, and brushing the dog. Plus, change doesn’t come easy for me.

On the other hand, teaching Jessie to cut the grass could eventually save me time. Like all parents, it seems like each day I add more items to my To-Do list than I take off. Having extra help with some of my duties would be advantageous. It’s time to get Jessie’s perspective.

    Jessie, Age 10
    Okay, so today’s topic is when is the right age to mow the grass. I think if I can be trusted to cook food on hot burners, I should be trusted to mow the lawn. I am a dancer. Dancers use their feet and toes. I would be extra careful not to chop off my toes! I do not have a high tolerance for pain to say the least.

    Here are some of the reasons that I think I should be able to mow the lawn. Number one, my dad is aging. As he gets older, he should let me take over some of the tasks that could hurt his back. Number two, he has two torn medial menisci. One is severe! Number three, I need to know how to do it so when I am older and have a house of my own, I will not be clueless. I could give more; however, I think three is enough to make you see that I am old enough to mow. Now back to you, Dad.

I’m not sure when Jessie can go out for the school’s debate team, but I’m confident she’ll be competitive. It was pretty clever to use my knee injuries in her argument. And it’s not like she’s asking me to use a chain saw, though she tells me that “lots of boys in my class have chain sawed.” Don’t even think about it, Jessie!

Though my heart says, “There’s no rush to add mowing to Jessie’s skill set,” the pencil mark on the door frame signals change. I realize, too, that future marks will inch upward, and it’s my job as a father to keep up with them. But no matter where the pencil mark ends, I won’t forget the days when Jessie assisted me with her corn popper, even though it never collected dirt or cut a single blade of grass.

I’m not sure what the future holds for Jessie’s lawn care ambitions, but whether she is studying at her desk or cutting grass, 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.

Within Arm’s Reach

Jessie, my ten-year-old daughter, is changing. The physical changes are obvious. A few weeks ago, she wore a pair of her mom’s shoes to church. She’s going to be tall like her daddy. Last summer when I raised her bicycle seat, the pole that holds the seat pulled out of its tube. I can’t raise it any higher.

Jessie now owns her own makeup bag, filled with blushes, mascara, lip sticks and glosses, and whatever else ladies use to beautify themselves. She’s using makeup more often, too. Jessie also grew out her bangs. Her new hairstyle took time to grow on me, but I’ve adjusted. Here’s one thing I haven’t adjusted well to – the freedom she now seeks.

I started to see the signs when Jessie was in second grade. “Friend time” became more exciting than “Dad time.” I knew the day would come, too, when she would no longer want me to walk her to her classroom, one of my favorite daily activities. I made it through second grade, but when she became a third-grader, Jessie asked me to drop her off at the entrance to the school building each morning. I miss second grade.

Okay, I’ve heard all the stories about the teen years. But this is only the tween years. What gives?

The last time I took Jessie to our church’s fall festival, she quickly met up with a friend and they ran off to visit the different booths stationed all around the parking lot. I didn’t mind being in the background to watch them have fun, but then it was time for the hay wagon ride. “Dad, may I take the ride with just Alice?” My mouth said “Okay,” but my heart said, “Nooooooooooo!” Later, on the drive home, Jessie requested, “Dad, can you just drop me off at the festival next year and let me play with my friends? You can talk with the other parents.”

What? Now I can’t even watch?

Yes, Jessie is growing up quickly. I realize that many “letting go” days are in my future, but I’m going to do my share of “holding on” whether Jessie likes it or not. For example, each Sunday morning, I drop Jessie off in front of our church for Sunday school. She rushes up a flight of stairs to her classroom while I park the car. In recent weeks, before she gets out of the car she has said, “Daddy, you don’t have to check on me.” Sometimes she repeats this statement, even though she knows Dad isn’t going to listen. After I park the car, I quietly walk past her classroom to make sure she’s safe. Okay, maybe I’m a bit overprotective, but I’d rather err on the side of caution.

I realize I can’t always keep her within arm’s reach, but how much freedom should I give her? It’s time for Jessie’s point of view.

    Jessie, Age 10
    Good Grief! I’m ten years old. I should be able to do some things without my father behind me “fending off boys with his imaginary golf club.” I should be allowed to walk upstairs to the Sunday school classroom of our small-town church. Next thing you know, he’ll be bringing a bow and arrow to my school dance. I need my freedom. I’m growing up, and I think he’s starting to understand.

A few months ago when she was still 9 years old, Jessie suggested we take one of her 12-year-old friends on vacation with us. She said, “The two of us would make one adult, 12 + 9 = 21.” Clever, but there’s no way I’m going to give Jessie and any combination of her friends the freedom of a 21-year-old woman. And for the record, I have a complete set of golf clubs, and they are real.

But whether Jessie is within arm’s reach or just outside of it, 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. Enjoy the last few weeks of summer! When school resumes, if you still walk your child to the classroom, hold hands and enjoy every step.

The Fill Line

Choose battles wisely. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in thirty years of marriage and ten years as a father, it’s to choose my battles wisely. Since this is a joint column with my tween daughter, Jessie, I won’t go into the many differences between my wife, Mattie, and me. It’s safe to say, though, that Jessie learns from two parents who often see and do things differently.

Lots of parents’ challenges are fairly universal. “It’s time for bed.” “Do your homework.” “At least try a bite of it.” But here’s an issue in our family that may not be as common, “Don’t fill your cup to the very top.”

A few minutes ago, I finished washing Jessie’s Sunday dress – by hand. It may seem a bit trivial, and probably is, but I just had my hands in laundry detergent trying to wash a lemonade-stained dress in a tiny bathroom sink, so I’m primed for writing.

Numerous times while dining at a fast-food restaurant, I’ve told Jessie, “Don’t overfill your cup.” She enjoys going to the soda machine to refresh her drink. To me the concept is easy – leave a little space at the top of the cup. This practice allows a lid to snap on easily without liquid trickling out, and, with or without a lid, will result in fewer spills.

Now, who doesn’t like to get their money’s worth? When eating at a buffet, I fill my plate a few times and eat dessert even when my stomach yells to my pants, “Hey, give me a little more space!” Heck, the meal’s the same price, so why not enjoy it to the fullest. But how much value is there in an inch of flavored water?

For as long as I’ve known Mattie, she’s always filled her drinks to the very top, at home as well as at restaurants and convenience stores. It doesn’t matter what the beverage is, water, soda, lemonade or tea. Hot, cold, or frozen, Mattie likes it full.

Kids take after their parents. This is true. But why does Jessie have to copy her mother’s drink fill-line and not mine? Okay, enough background, it’s time for the story that led me to wash Jessie’s dress this afternoon.

After church, the three of us ate lunch at a restaurant. Prior to leaving, Jessie and I went to refill our cups with lemonade. Not surprisingly, Jessie filled hers to the top. Prior to placing a plastic lid on her full-to-the-brim cup, she slowly lifted it to her lips for a sip. Drops of lemonade dripped down onto her dress. I grumbled, “Jessie, you’re getting lemonade all over your pretty dress!”

Oblivious, she responded, “No, I didn’t.” I pointed to her lemonade-sprinkled bow to prove my point.

While my family walked to the car, I complained to Mattie. “I’ve told that girl a thousand times not to overfill her drink.” As I held the car door for Mattie, she handed me her cup and I noticed tea swimming on top of the lid of her over-filled cup. I’m not sure if it’s mother like daughter or daughter like mother. Regardless, they both filled their drinks to capacity. The whole family laughed, even a tired Dad.

Although I don’t want to waste more battles on this minor topic, as I’m sure more pressing ones await, I would like to hear Jessie’s perspective. I’m curious if I’m making progress or destined for a life of laundry.

    Jessie, Age 10
    Hi readers. Today my topic is about the proper height to fill up cups. If we are going out to eat and we pay for a drink, shouldn’t we get our money’s worth? I love to fill my drink to the tippy top, top. Sometimes it spills. My dad, no way. He fills his glasses half way. Instead, I follow my momma’s example.

For the record, I fill my drinks about 85-90% full – an appropriate range. But whether our cups are half-full or overflowing, 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. May your summer be filled with refreshing beverages that quench your thirst … but don’t stain your clothes.

We Need a Dog

The Westminster Kennel Club holds its famous dog show each year in Madison Square Garden. My wife, Mattie, and nine-year-old daughter, Jessie, watch every minute of the six-hour, two-night telecast. As they snuggle under a blanket, eyes glued to the TV, the oohs and ahhs from the sofa continue nonstop.

“I want that one.”

“Ah, it’s sooooo cute.”

When the public-address announcer calls, “May I have the hound group into the ring,” they shriek like we won the lottery.

While Mattie and Jessie enjoy their dog fantasies, I might as well be invisible. They’d probably notice if I rode a camel in front of the TV, before promptly responding in unison, “Get out of the way!” Simply put, Mattie and Jessie love dogs.

Don’t get me wrong. I like dogs, too, and have had a few great ones in my lifetime. However, I also remember when we lost our beloved Shetland sheepdog, Ginger, to a stroke after a year of fighting kidney disease. I’ll never forget Jessie’s wails, which were striking in both volume and duration. It was my worst day as a father.

Plus, puppies and dogs are a lot of work. As a stay-at-home dad, I knew who would perform most of it. Doggie needs taken out early or late. Dad. Walks in unpleasant weather. Dad. Trips to the vet, clean up accidents, keep the little chewer from ruining our furniture. Dad, Dad, Dad. So, you can see why I was less than enthusiastic about adding a furry new member to our family.

However, I knew it was just a matter of time. Probably deep down, way deep down, I wanted another dog, too. We welcomed Sadie, a Shetland sheepdog puppy, into our family two years ago. Just as I expected, my workload has increased by all the above tasks and more.

Dogs need lots of love and attention. Frequently, Sadie puts her front paws on the arm of my desk chair or brings her stuffed gorilla and uses her big, brown eyes to guilt-trip me into playing. I throw the gorilla and she brings it back, over and over, as I try to type a few words. Yes, it’s harder to focus on my work. And somehow, Sadie became a sofa dog, a privileged place to shed that we kept off-limits to our previous pooches. Maybe it’s time for Jessie’s perspective on why we needed a dog.

    Jessie, Age 9
    Our dog Ginger died. It had been a while since she died. I told my parents about a trillion times, “I need a dog.” It’s important to have a dog greet me when I come into the house. A dog licks between my toes when I’m feeling bad. I like a dog to cuddle up with at night, a dog to dress up in my baby clothes, a dog to play with, and a fluffy thing to love. Finally, we got one, Sadie.
    I need another dog. I would like to get a Havanese. They are priced at $2,000 plus. They are super cute. They don’t have many health problems. It will give Sadie a playmate. Two dogs will also protect both sides of my bed at night, and I’d have a dog for each hand when I’m holding the leashes. Now, let’s get back to Dad.

Instead of giving 2,000-plus reasons on why we don’t need a second dog, I’ll concede that Sadie has been a welcome addition to our family. The first sentence of Jessie’s bedtime prayer sums this up. Every night, she opens with, “Thank you for Mommy and Daddy and the best dog in the whole world that I love so, so, so, so, so, so very much.”

We did need a dog … but not a second one!

But no matter how many dogs share our home, 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 Father’s Day! Enjoy the sights and sounds of fatherhood – even a few untimely barks.

The Joy of Cooking

My wife, Mattie, and I know it’s important to teach our nine-year-old daughter, Jessie, life skills. We encourage Jessie to ask and answer questions during family walks around our neighborhood. We coach her through experiences to build her communication and people skills. She also tackles a few household chores and takes care of the dog.

However, I’ve always wanted Jessie to enjoy her childhood to the fullest. She has the rest of her life to be an adult, so I tend to perform a lot of chores myself rather than wasting Jessie’s time. Okay, I admit it, sometimes it’s easier to do the task myself, without the extra mess, questions, and time it takes for a teachable moment. One area where this shows up most is my reluctance to teach Jessie to cook. I don’t particularly enjoy cooking, and having a partner who wants to make everything a grand and messy experiment doesn’t make it any more fun.

Now, that’s not to say we haven’t spent happy moments in the kitchen, because we have. Jessie’s flipped pancakes since age three. I’ve cleaned slimy egg running off the kitchen counter and down the cabinets more times than I can count. On one occasion, Jessie dropped the hand mixer, running at full speed, into cake batter, hurtling sticky globules to the far reaches of the kitchen. At times like that, a young assistant adds extra mess and time to a task I could complete more efficiently on my own.

“Overprotective Dad” also limited Jessie’s use of knives until I felt comfortable that bandages or a trip to the emergency room wouldn’t be needed before Jessie had the potatoes peeled or apples sliced. Parents give responsibilities at different timeframes. When my four-year-old niece peeled potatoes for a meal at her parents’ house, I worried so much I thought I’d need a doctor even if she didn’t. However, she did an excellent job with no bandages required.

I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t felt a sense of urgency to rush Jessie into the kitchen, even though we’ve had some great times in it, and she knows how to do a lot. Once, she made yellow rice and black beans for her mom and me. She filled our water glasses and wrapped the silverware in paper towels taped so securely we had to rip the paper to remove the utensils. She even went outside and cut a yellow mum and put it into a vase. Then she closed the blinds and turned out all the lights to create a romantic ambience.

We complimented her on the meal and her efforts. It didn’t matter that a good amount of rice stuck to the bottom of the pan.

One of the things that makes Jessie’s cooking more stressful is her “Please don’t look” policy. She likes to surprise us and tries to comfort us with, “I know where the fire extinguisher is.” It’s hard to find that comforting, so we’ve emphasized that use of the fire extinguisher is not the goal.

On that note, let’s get Jessie’s perspective.

    Jessie, Age 9
    I love to cook. My dad is an ok cook, but he does not want to teach me. I have a billion recipes I really want to try!!! Why won’t he teach me? This is what I know how to do: make a quesadilla, bake cookies out of a bag, mix Kool-Aid, and heat food out of a can. Also, I can make pancakes and blueberry muffins out of a box. Now, let’s get back to Daddy’s perspective on cooking.

“Why won’t he teach me?” Wow, that hurts like a slap in the face with a hot, flipped pancake. I don’t want to drop the ball as a parent, even though I have thought – okay, said outright – “You and Grandmommy can cook together,” as her grandmother’s talents in the kitchen and tolerance for messes far outweigh mine.

I realize it’s now time to give Jessie more responsibilities in the kitchen. Still, I find it easier to teach other life skills than to watch her slice oranges with sharp knives.

But whether Mattie and I enjoy a romantic dinner Jessie prepares or bandage a cut she sustains while learning, 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 Mother’s Day to all the hard-working moms. Thank you for the important role you play as teachers.

Dye Worrying

Parents worry, often about trivial things. We have different concerns for each stage of a child’s life – baby, toddler, tween, and various stages of teens and adulthood. With Jessie only nine years old, I don’t need to worry about dating or driving for a long time. Right now, I’m focusing on Jessie, the experimenter and artist.

“Jessie, how do you feel about food dye?”

    Jessie, Age 9
    I love to play with food dye. Think of all the things that you can create. On the box, it even tells you how to mix the colors to get others. My dad doesn’t like food dye. He thinks that I will stain my clothes. I like to put food dye on coffee filters. Since no one in our house drinks coffee, we have quite a lot. When it dries it looks very pretty! So, that’s why I like food dye. What’s your opinion, Dad?

It’s interesting how opinions change over a lifetime. I was a typical boy and liked to get dirty. My mom spent hours trying to get grass and dirt stains off my pants and ball uniforms. However, now that I’m in charge of laundry, I’m more sensitive to stains. Some days, I think Jessie is trying to turn me into a stain-removal expert like my mom.

So far, I’ve been able to hold my own washing Jessie’s clothes. With that said, I’d rather not go to war against stains if I can maintain peace. It seems simple. Sit up straight at the table and remain focused during meals, and there should be few stains. Ahh, but that’s just eating. Jessie is also a scientist and an artist. She performs all sorts of experiments using various liquids, soaps, condiments, and the one that gives me the most stress – food color.

I realize, though, for the good of science, I must give “scientist Jessie” some leeway. If the mixed ingredients don’t create an explosion or set the house on fire, I let her experiment (under watchful eye) so she can learn and grow. I’m more likely to challenge “artist Jessie” and dial back some of her creative plans. Where did the easy days go when we colored with crayons and molded with Play Doh? I’m okay with washable paint and can even tolerate retrieving the vacuum cleaner (on occasion) for glitter cleanup. But now, Jessie has added food color as a necessary art supply.

The Saturday before Easter, Jessie asked if she could take food color into her bedroom, her carpeted bedroom, as she wanted to work on a surprise. I responded, “No way! Any art projects involving food dye are done at the kitchen table.” However, since she’s also a skilled negotiator and has perfected her twinkling eyes maneuver, Jessie convinced me that she had to do the project in her room to keep it a surprise. I relented and emphasized the big responsibility I was giving her.

Jessie excitedly gathered all her materials, cups with water, paper bags and a big piece of cardboard to cover the floor, coffee filters, pipe cleaners, and the box of food dye. A couple of weeks earlier, we had gone to an art festival where kids dipped a coffee filter into a premixed bowl of food color and water, added a pipe cleaner in the middle, and ended up with a butterfly.

As I worked at my desk, I called out a half-dozen times, “Are you doing okay?” I thought, Jessie might be having fun, but I’m “dyeing” with worry out here.

Fortunately, the carpet didn’t change into a rainbow of colors. On Easter Sunday, Jessie brought out two Easter baskets filled with beautiful coffee-filter butterflies, gifts for her mother and me. My needless concerns had turned into a wonderful surprise, bringing joy to the giver and the receivers.

I know I must continue to expand Jessie’s responsibilities and give her more freedom, so I’m trying to worry less. Reasonable concern is okay, though. I just read the side of the food-color box. “Consult a professional for upholstery, rugs, or carpet.” I see all future food-dye use happening at the kitchen table.

But whether clothes and carpets are clean or stained, 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, even during science experiments and artistic endeavors. May all your worries turn into pleasant surprises.

Darker, Thicker Lashes

I recall the day when I first held my baby, two arms carefully cradling her seven-pound, ten-ounce body. I also have fond memories of small planes, actually baby-food-filled spoons, zooming down to the landing strip in Jessie’s mouth. Beneath my feet, the Cheerios my toddler threw on the floor, missed by the dog, but not my shoe, crunched into dust. Diapers, baby teeth, ear infections, the list goes on. But somehow Jessie grew from baby to a nine-year-old tween. Last Sunday, she wore her mom’s shoes to church. What’s going on here? The teenage years are still far away, aren’t they?

I’ve reached the conclusion that Jessie will be a teenager before I know it. I haven’t come to terms with it, just reached the conclusion. Aside from her shoe size, there have been other signs. Dress hems that once looked up to Jessie’s knees now peer down. Two new sweat suits lasted only one school year before Jessie was ready to jog in flood waters. Even our one-year-old dog, Sadie, is not helping matters. A few days ago, Jessie dressed Sadie in the “Daddy’s Little Girl” top that she’d outgrown. I liked it better on Jessie.

To date, I’ve been able to keep Jessie’s ears hole-free. Her stick-on earrings look beautiful, though. She gets excited when store ads come with perfume samples. When she pulls open the sticky paper tab and shoves it under my nose, I take a whiff and wrinkle my face. Jessie laughs and quickly holds another sample to my nose, followed by more giggles.

The way I see it, or smell it, my girl is beautiful without earrings or perfume. She doesn’t need makeup either. She can shoot hoops, catch balls, or swing a tennis racquet without any of that stuff. So far, Jessie has used minimal makeup – a touch of blush, a little lipstick or lip gloss, and a smidgeon of eye shadow. Once, my wife, Mattie, put a little mascara on Jessie’s lashes. However, change is in the air. I can smell it – unless the store samples messed up my olfactory glands. No, actually, Jessie showed me this morning over breakfast.

Prior to eating (Why didn’t I get breakfast ready quicker?), Mattie and Jessie were in the bathroom playing with makeup. When I sat down to eat my blueberry muffins, I looked across the table at my beautiful wife. My, I married well. Then I glanced toward Jessie’s chair and saw – a teenager.

“Jessie, we can’t skip the tween years.”

Jessie had just put on her own mascara for the first time. She was wearing lipstick, too.

I wanted to grab the box of Cheerios and ask if Jessie would like to throw some on the floor. Before I could react, though, she informed me, “Momma says I can put on my own mascara.”

I voiced my concern that she’s too young. What if the eyelash brush hits her pupil? I’m barely ready for tween Jessie, much less teenage Jessie. Maybe it’s time to get her perspective.

    Jessie, Age 9
    I wear makeup all the time. My mom gives me her old makeup. I have very long lashes, so mascara looks good on me. My teachers are always commenting on my long eyelashes. I do not see why my dad is so against makeup. He is afraid that I will poke myself in the eye. I am not a baby anymore. I showed him how I put it on. Did that help? I do not know. What I do know is that as I get older I will get more responsibilities. I am getting older now. My dad understands.

Later that same Saturday, Jessie, already having reapplied her mascara once, sat in the hallway and talked to her dog. “Sadie, you’re too young for mascara. You have to wait until you’re two.”

And I thought I was ill-prepared for my daughter to wear mascara. I’m not ready for my daughter to look like a teenager, much less the dog!

But whether Jessie’s makeup includes lipstick, eye shadow, and mascara or no makeup at all, 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.

Glitter, Glitter, and More Glitter

I try not to use the word “hate.” From day one, my wife and I have taught Jessie to love. Should she encounter something unpleasant, like having spinach on her plate, she knows, “I hate spinach” will draw a parental response.

In being a good role model for Jessie, I hate to start off … whoops, let me rephrase. I’d rather begin the following paragraph differently, but hey, sometimes you must call it as you see it. And I’ve seen way too much of it.

I hate glitter! I’d hang “No Glitter Allowed” signs in each room of the house if it were up to me. This thought crossed my mind after the following experience.

Shortly before Valentine’s Day, Jessie, then age 9, decided to make homemade valentines. I’m glad she has lots of friends and family members and enjoys sharing her love with them. But then I hear, “Can I use glitter?” Jessie always seems to ask this question right after I vacuum the floors. My typical response – grumbled – is “not glitter,” but I usually follow up with, “Go ahead, but keep the glitter on the table.”

On this day, I worked on a column in my office while Jessie cut pink and red valentines from construction paper at the kitchen table and decorated them with stickers and glitter. Music blared as Jessie sang along to Gloria Estefan’s “1-2-3.” She glittered away happily, while I tried to focus on typing a few quality paragraphs of prose.

As dinnertime drew near, I walked into the kitchen to see if the glitter had stayed on the construction paper. It had not. Glitter sparkled everywhere! I should have checked sooner when Jessie commented, “Dad, you’ll have to vacuum out the dog’s cage.”

I wrote an email to a writer friend, while Jessie vacuumed. My email summed up my feelings at the time (before I vacuumed again to capture the sparkles Jessie missed).

“I tried to get a little writing done while my daughter made valentines at the kitchen table. I HATE GLITTER! I just surveyed the damage, and I’m afraid that on this first day of February, my writing career has come to an end as I’ll be vacuuming for the rest of my life. There’s glitter in the hallways, living room, kitchen, dog cage, and even my desk chair … that I’ve been sitting in for the last hour. I even have glitter on my keyboard.”

Okay, you probably get the point, and yes, I was a little melodramatic. Nevertheless, I still needed to sing Gloria Estefan’s song, “1,2,3” and count well past ten to keep my composure. I had just vacuumed the house two days earlier. Maybe I need a new vacuum as flecks of glitter always remain, even after my most diligent attempts to remove the pesky bits of sparkle. Oh well, it’s time for Jessie’s point of view.

    Jessie, Age 9
    I love glitter!!! My dad, well it’s safe to say he hates it. Different colors, sparkles, perfect. Why does my dad hate glitter? He hates the mess it makes. I mean, he doesn’t mind vacuuming. It’s just that no matter how many times he vacuums it’s still everywhere. I don’t understand why he just doesn’t see my perspective. I get to make cute cards (or drawings) for my best friends. What’s not to love about that? I mean really? What does he want me to do? Sequins make just as big of a mess. Well, I guess we’re always going to disagree about some things.

A week has passed since Jessie made valentines. My desk chair still has a fleck of glitter on it. I didn’t leave it there intentionally, but when I see the sparkle, I don’t need to count to ten. Instead, it reminds me of what’s important in life and that I should not hate. I can tell you already, I’m never going to love glitter. However, maybe one day I can get to “disliking” it.

But whether glitter is liked or disliked in this family, 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, even while vacuuming.