The Defeated Tooth Fairy

As a stay-at-home dad to 12-year-old daughter, Jessie, husband to Mattie, and writer, I play many roles. One of my infrequent but treasured roles is about to come to an end – the tooth fairy. I can’t believe my little girl is down to just two baby teeth.

Although the tooth-fairy part has been fun, getting Jessie’s teeth out has involved lots of unwanted drama. I’m surprised the tooth fairy has had any emotional energy left to do his job.

Jessie has always made such a big production when she has loose teeth that I was shocked when she walked into my home office one recent evening with a large molar in her hand and a tissue in her mouth. I had missed not only the preview, but the entire dramatic movie produced by and starring my daughter. I thought, This is too good to be true! Only two to go.

Little did I realize that, though I may have missed the tooth-pulling drama, the entertainment had yet to begin. Since my wife, Mattie, was out of town for a couple of days, tooth-fairy duties fell solely on me, which in teeth past, hadn’t been a problem. However, Jessie, knowing the identity of the tooth fairy and having only a few more opportunities to play along, wanted to keep things challenging. She achieved her goal.

Jessie is a sound sleeper. I think I could crash cymbals above her head and, come morning, she wouldn’t know a musical performance had taken place. On tooth-fairy night, I didn’t have cymbals, only a five-dollar bill. There certainly has been inflation since the tooth fairy brought me 25 cents.

I snuck into Jessie’s room and gently placed my hand under her pillow and around, over, under, and between numerous stuffed animals. First attempt – nada. Second try – nothing but a monkey’s tail. Third attempt – still no plastic bag with a big molar in it.

Jessie had informed me prior to going to bed that she planned to “hide it well.” She did!

My texts to Mattie at 11:04 p.m. summed up my situation. “I searched and searched and searched. Love, the defeated tooth fairy.” “She told me she was going to hide it inside one of her stuffed animals, but then thought that would be too hard for the tooth fairy to find.”

Not one to give up, I made a final attempt before heading to bed. Strike four!

My text to Mattie at 11:23 p.m. read, “The tooth fairy tried one more time. I bumped into the end of her bed. I bumped into her three-way floor lamp. She’s a sound sleeper. I reached under all her pillows and lifted a few stuffed animals. I picked up her pet pillow. Nothing! Then, she groggily opened her eyes and gave me a weak ‘hi’. She held out her hand with the baggie in it. She was holding it! Love, a worn-out tooth fairy.”

Though this tooth fairy doesn’t carry a wand, my baby-tooth collection record was perfect to this point. I made a final attempt at 1:38 a.m. Jessie looked so angelic as her hand rested under her head. I reached under her pillow and performed a thorough search, but for the fifth time came away without the prize.

She won. I went to bed.

When Jessie awoke in the morning, she asked, “Why didn’t the tooth fairy come?” She knew I’d try again. She said that after she caught the tooth fairy in action, she made it easier by leaving a small portion of the baggie stick out from under the pillow. Apparently, she laid on it.

That night, Mattie, who had returned from her trip, took her turn as tooth fairy. Mattie waited on the sofa and thought she had it made when Jessie went to the bathroom. She raced into Jessie’s room and searched under the pillows. However, Jessie, expecting her mom would take the opportunity, had taken the baggie containing the molar into the bathroom with her.

Later that night, having fallen asleep on the sofa, Mattie woke up and fulfilled her tooth-fairy duties. Jessie made five dollars while providing our family with some special memories.

Mattie and I are only two baby teeth and $10 away from retiring our wings, which is bittersweet. We won’t miss the tooth-pulling drama, but all three of us have cherished the tooth-fairy adventures.

Maybe I had the prize, much bigger than a molar, all along.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments.

Smooth Sailing in Rough Waters

Two days after coming down with vertigo, I walked into Jessie’s bedroom. As my gaze focused on my 12-year-old daughter’s desk, at least I think there was a desk under everything piled on it, my vertigo symptoms returned and I suddenly felt dizzy, weak, and unsteady, but at least I didn’t throw up. Let’s face it, many parents need to remind their children to clean their rooms.

Prior to leaving Jessie’s room, I noticed the painting on Jessie’s wall of a mother and daughter wearing similar dresses standing on a riverbank covered in flowers. Mattie, my wife, and I purchased the painting shortly after we married. We liked it because it shows a peaceful scene, with the young girl’s right hand waving at two sailboats off in the distance.

When we made the purchase, I didn’t realize that sailboats and I wouldn’t get along. To summarize my sailboat-ride history in one word, it would be “Blaaaaaaaaaah.” Fortunately, I learned a valuable lesson on my last excursion sailing rough waters (okay, sailing the calm waters of a river on a beautiful day). Be prepared!

My sailboat experience consists of three rides, one fun, two of them, not so much. During one trip, I hovered over the large garbage can on deck for most of the journey. On my last sailboat voyage, I used the plastic bag I had stuck in my pocket in case of seasickness. One bag wasn’t enough.

Monday, when I came down with vertigo, I was reminded of that seasick feeling. When I awoke, it didn’t take long to realize I needed to visit my doctor. Every time I stood up, I had to lay down. Three times I felt such nausea that I rushed to the bathroom. As Mattie drove me to the doctor’s office, I reclined the seat, clutching my two plastic bags, one inserted inside the other. I used them minutes after Mattie pulled into the doctor’s office parking lot and jokingly blamed it on her driving.

Prior to getting out of the car, I reached under the car seat and grabbed two clean plastic bags to carry in to the doctor’s office. We keep a few stashed there to pick up after our dog when we travel. I held Mattie’s arm as she walked me to the elevator, thinking this was no time for a ride of any sort, then into the exam room, where I immediately laid on the exam table, clutching my plastic bags.

The nurse practitioner came in, but I didn’t get up. I made her diagnosis of vertigo easy when I jumped off the table to use my bags. When I’m throwing up, I prefer to do it in the privacy of my own bathroom, not surrounded by my wife and nurse practitioner, but I counted my blessings that I had brought the two bags, and cracked jokes, as I generally do when I’m uncomfortable.

As the nurse practitioner watched me bent over, continuing to display “symptoms,” she suggested I sit on the floor, as that would be better for us both than me falling on the floor. I knelt on one knee and continued to make entertaining conversation. The nurse practitioner even complimented me, “You’re good at throwing up.”

When I made it back up to the exam table, I requested a clean bag in case I got sick again. Mattie and I chuckled when the nurse practitioner stepped out to the hallway and yelled, “Do we have any barf bags?” A few moments later, she returned with a tall kitchen garbage bag, which I gratefully accepted.

The nurse prescribed three medications, one of them used by pregnant women who have morning sickness. Luckily, Mattie didn’t injure herself from laughing so hard, and was able to drive me home. Two days of rest and medication helped a lot, and I was feeling considerably better until I walked into Jessie’s cluttered room.

As I look at the painting with the two sailboats, I think back over the events of the past year. Our family took a major journey, moving for Mattie’s job, though we drove our two vehicles down the interstate rather than two sailboats down the coast. There have been happy times of smooth sailing and some instances of rough waters when I might have benefitted from having a supply of those anti-nausea pills. But we must continue to sail on and enjoy the journey, even when stressful events rock our boats, confident that smoother sailing days will return.

As I look at Jessie’s desk, yeah, it looks a little rough, but in the big picture, it’s minor. Wait – maybe my morning sickness pills are working too well? “Jessie, clean your room!”

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments.

What Dads Want for Father’s Day

At the church service on Mother’s Day, the pastor turned around from the altar and smiled. He looked out into the congregation and welcomed the parishioners.

“The church on Mother’s Day is always extra crowded, whereas come Father’s Day, the church is half full. This is because mothers say, ‘Oh, I want to go to church with my family.’ However, when Father’s Day rolls around, dads want to go fishing.” Everyone laughed, including me, even though I don’t fish.

My 12-year-old daughter, Jessie, turns 13 in a few months. How is it possible for this to be my last Father’s Day with a tween daughter? How in the world did the baby I rocked in my arms in our blue La-Z-Boy grow taller than her mother?

Physical size is not the only change. A few weeks ago, I dropped Jessie off at school at 8:26 a.m. Other students stood on the sidewalk outside the gated entrance, waiting for the doors to open at 8:30. As a protective father, I’m more comfortable when Jessie is inside the gate. However, after saying, “I love my girl. Give it all you’ve got,” (my standard line), I pulled away from the curb. However, although it was only a few minutes, I chose to park the car at the end of the school lot and wait until the gate opened to leave the school. I could barely see Jessie as I peered out the car window and doubted she could see me, not that I thought it mattered.

When I picked Jessie up from school that afternoon, it didn’t take long for me to realize that Jessie had spotted her dad in the parking lot. It turns out that it mattered after all that she saw me. Lots of discussion ensued during the drive home. It’s not like I was standing on my car roof with binoculars around my neck or standing in line outside the school gate holding her hand. How am I hindering Jessie’s growth?

As I ponder the changes past and the changes yet to come, I gave thought to what dads want. Father’s Day is right around the corner. Is it time for me to take up fishing?

I’m not just any dad. I had a successful 20-year career in banking, accounting, and auditing. I remember the breadwinner stresses – going to work before sunrise, drinking too much coffee and soda, sleeping way too few hours. Heck, one time I dressed in the dark, trying not to wake up my wife, and ended up at a one-day conference wearing a black shoe and a brown one.

Then, after almost 20 years of marriage, at the youthful age of 44, I became a father. Goodbye suits, ties, and brief case. Hello, apron, vacuum cleaner, and dust cloth. Instead of conversing with colleagues at the water cooler, my communication took place with a baby and my friend, Shout, in the laundry room. So, who better to pull together a list of what dads want for Father’s Day than someone who has been on both sides of the fence, the hard-working breadwinner and the 24-7 stay-at-home parent who’s gone through the baby, toddler, little girl, and tween years? Mothers will also appreciate my list of wants. In pulling together my list, I cast a broad net, focusing on what all dads would probably enjoy. This is not going to be the normal list of gifts, like a snazzy tie or cotton socks.

But before I list the five items that made the final cut, here were a few contenders, especially pertinent to the older tween, and my guess, teenagers.

• To see Jessie’s furniture in her bedroom. At least, I think there’s still furniture underneath the clutter in Jessie’s room.

• To regain control of the car radio station for the day. Somehow, Jessie has appointed herself “Dictator of the Radio.” This is not a good thing and the situation is magnified by Jessie’s choice of music. I miss Barry Manilow and Air Supply.

• To get a good deal on a cellendectomy. I pray never to lose my daughter, but if she would get lost in a crowd, or the clutter in her room, I only need to call her cell phone.

Okay, all joking aside, here’s my Top 5 list of gifts that dads would enjoy on Father’s Day.

A 55” flat screen television! Nah, I don’t want to start my list with a big, tangible, impersonal item. Let’s start over.

• The gift of food.

For my birthday and special occasions, Jessie and my wife make me a Jell-O cake with the most delicious of frostings, a mixture of powdered sugar and Cool Whip. Of course, Jessie likes to top the cake with candles to make it special. I’m sure dads would enjoy being treated to their favorite-tasting treat. Please note, though, that Dad shouldn’t have to help clean the kitchen if a flour, sugar, and egg slime tornado hits.

Okay, maybe some dads would prefer the 55” flat screen TV over something tasty, but let’s move on.

• The gift of peace.

Let’s face it, whether dad works from home or his job takes him outside the house, fathers deserve (and need) a little peace and quiet. Some fathers might find it out on a lake holding a fishing rod, while others rejuvenate in a church pew during a Sunday morning service. And then there are some fathers who simply enjoy kicking back on the sofa in front of their new 55” flat screen TV. A quiet block of time for a nap fits nicely here, too.

• The gift of time.

We are all faced with limited time, our most precious resource. I think everyone struggles with how they balance their time between family, work, and other commitments. I miss the days when Jessie and I colored together, did puzzles, and had picnics any place a blanket could be tossed. I’d turn off a 55” TV to have her squeeze into the La-Z-Boy with me to read her books like I used to. Fellow men, don’t think less of me, but I miss reading Fancy Nancy.

Any of your favorite family activities, a bike ride, a walk, or even watching a “Dad’s choice” movie, popcorn optional, 55” television screen preferable, would make a great gift and be time well spent.

• The gift of love.

We all need love. Dads enjoy when their efforts and the sacrifices they make for their family are appreciated. “Thank you” means a lot. Communicating respect and words that reflect love and admiration go a long way. Ok, a 55” flat screen shows love, too.

When Jessie was little, she always made coupon books as gifts. She’d write her little message on colored index cards and staple them together. When she fulfilled the obligation noted on the card (sometimes she added gifts from her dog, too – “Yay, I get to sleep with the dog three nights”), she used a hole punch on it or had me sign my name on the card. I still have several unused coupons, such as: 12 hugs, 10 kisses in a row (shucks, that one’s been punched), and “I’ll be a Daddy’s girl for 2 ½ weeks.” Hey, I even have two “Help Tickets” that read, “This ticket is good for love!” I wonder if I could cash one of those in for a 55” TV? Would I do that? A 55” flat screen would be helpful and show love.

• The gift already delivered.

My best gift was already delivered … and not from Amazon. No gift, not even a 55” flat screen, will provide this dad with greater joy than the one I unwrapped to change a dirty diaper almost 13 years ago. That gift makes me want to work harder and to be not just a good role model for her, but also a better man and husband.

My family doesn’t watch a lot of television, but we catch a few select shows and I like my college football. Jessie, the dancer in the family, jumps off the sofa and performs impromptu dances during Dancing with the Stars. Her dances fill my heart with joy and my eyes with moisture. Jessie is happy and healthy. She sings and dances. Her self-esteem is high. Isn’t that what all dads want for their children? Even more than going fishing or a new television.

Note: With Father’s Day only eight days away, maybe you’d like to surprise Dad with a new fishing rod or television set, but it’s not in the budget. No worries! MoMENts: A Dad Holds On, is available for purchase on Amazon in paperback ($14.99) or Kindle ($2.99). It’s a gift idea worth sharing.

The Life and Times of Stuffed Animals

My 12-year-old daughter, Jessie, has accumulated a family of stuffed animals. If I counted them, I’d miss my writing deadline, so let’s just go with “over a hundred.” They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are great for cuddling, others are puppets, and one can even be ridden. Simply put, Jessie’s room represents the animal kingdom quite well. Stuffed animals, almost all of them with names, sleep with Jessie in her bed or watch over her from their home on her bedroom dresser. The largest ones, an elephant, a dog, and a penguin, take up floor space.

My wife, Mattie, and I have found Jessie’s tween years to be interesting. At times, we watch a grown-up Jessie with “teenage” mannerisms. Occasionally though, we get to see the little girl who still finds joy and comfort with her stuffed-animal friends. If the animals could talk, I wonder what they would say. They’ve seen and heard a lot during Jessie’s first 12 years.

For sure, they’d share happy stories. Often, they starred in Jessie’s plays, puppet shows, and dance performances. Many of the lucky ones were “animal of the day,” which entitled the honoree to a spot at the kitchen table for breakfast and a front row seat on the sofa while Jessie read books to it. Of course, the animals got to watch lots of daddy-daughter fun times on her bedroom floor, as we played cards and board games, had picnics, and dressed Barbie dolls. I’m not sure if the animals would consider Jessie dressing up our real dog in all kinds of outfits as a happy time (it was for Jessie) or an unhappy time (probably the dog’s perspective).

Speaking of unhappy times, the animals would have witnessed a few of those, too, as life has its challenges. I’m not referring to falling out of the crowded bed due to Jessie’s tossing and turning, or cleaning day when they spun in the wash machine. Unfortunately, they witnessed sad moments and felt the moisture of Jessie’s tears during her difficult days, like the death of her first dog and leaving her friends to move to another state. More recently, the animals probably wish they could all squeeze under the pillows while she practices the clarinet, at least for the squeaky parts.

There have also been learning times – for everyone. The animals witnessed a dad crouched behind Elle, the floor elephant, as Jessie learned to sit up on her own. Abby, the stuffed dog with floppy ears, went to Pre-K to learn about veterinarians and won an award. Many animals attended class in the bedroom as Jessie and I held syllabus day at home while Mattie, a professor, held class at the college. I never thought I’d be a nervous speaker in front of stuffed animals, but again, these were learning times. The animals did give me a good evaluation at the end of the session.

Sometimes the animals even took part in exciting trips, like family vacations, wagon rides around the neighborhood, and picnics in the back of the pickup truck. Some of them came with Jessie to our bed when she had bad dreams or the electricity went out. And even though a few animals fell onto the ground, they always made it safely back home to Jessie’s room.

Then, there were the extra special family times, like when the entire family snuggled in Jessie’s bed to observe the newly hung glow-in-the-dark stars and planets on Jessie’s ceiling and walls. Sometimes it was a bit too cozy, like when we squeezed Dad, Mom, Jessie, our dog, and 14 stuffed animals into her child’s play tent. Eeyore hasn’t forgiven me yet for sitting on him, and he’s a lot flatter than he used to be. Mattie and the dog squish the stuffed animals, too, when they lie on opposite sides of Jessie for bedtime prayers, while Dad kneels at the foot of the bed.

“Okay, Dad, I’m ready to go.”

I look up from the morning newspaper. No stuffed animals are in sight. Neither is my little girl. Instead, I spot a young lady in a pretty red dress, pulling her book bag toward the front door.

“Mattie, I’m taking Jessie to school now. I’m going to stay with her all day as she’s way too pretty.”

Okay, I realize a 6’5” father won’t blend in with the sixth graders. Maybe it’s good I have an army of stuffed animals at my disposal. A protective dad can’t have too many lions, tigers, and bears. Her skunk might come in handy, too.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments. Happy Father’s Day!

Father’s Day is June 18. MoMENts: A Dad Holds On, available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle, would make a great Father’s Day present. Please spread the word.

The Taste of Love

“I love ice cream.” Big scoops, little scoops – many scoops. In a bowl, in a cone, or, if the half-gallon container is almost empty, straight out of the carton (Sorry, Mom, I know you raised me better). I don’t discriminate against any flavors; I like them all. Ice cream by itself or smothered with toppings – either is great. Heck, one can even mix in a banana or throw me an ice cream sandwich. I love ice cream!

Okay, I actually like ice cream – a lot – but I don’t love it. My wife, Mattie, and I have taught our 12-year-old daughter, Jessie, “We love people, not things.” One of the most-loved people for many of us is Mom. Between the comfort of ice cream and a mother’s love, the choice is obvious. Ice cream melts deliciously, yet quickly, on one’s taste buds and then is gone (except when it lingers, unwelcome, on the waistline). In contrast, a mother’s love lasts forever, and, like ice cream, is something we crave when we don’t feel well.

When Jessie was two years old, the two of us traveled to visit my parents. Apparently, a spider bit me during my sleep. As I looked at my swollen lip in the bathroom mirror, I had a minor anxiety attack. At 2 a.m., I opted to wake my mother, even though my dad drove the ambulance for the volunteer fire company and had more medical knowledge. I’ll never forget the laughter Mom and I shared over the next hour.

I’ll always remember, too, the day 7-year-old Jessie crashed her bike in our driveway, knocking out a loose baby tooth. I immediately assessed the situation, told her she was okay, and handed her my clean handkerchief to wipe her lip. Yet, when I got my crying daughter into the house, she immediately removed my bloody hanky from her mouth and exclaimed, “I want my momma!” To my amazement, a few seconds after she spoke with Momma at work, Jessie’s smile returned as if nothing had happened.

Recently, Jessie’s momma needed her own mom. Doctors found a tumor near my wife’s left ear. Luckily, the tumor was benign. However, due to its location near facial nerves, the surgery would become even more complex if it continued to grow, so it needed to come out. Mattie found a doctor who specializes in the procedure about 1,000 miles away. Her mother not only volunteered to go with her, but campaigned to make the trip and stay with her throughout the surgery and recovery. I stayed behind to take care of Jessie.

Was I disappointed Mattie chose her mom over me? No; I knew her mom would do everything in her power to care for Mattie. She’d interrogate the doctor before the surgery, estimated to take three hours. She’d provide periodic updates to me. Heck, she’d even run into the operating room and dive on the scalpel if that’s what it took to protect her baby.

Mattie’s mom called at 8:15 a.m. to report the surgery had begun. About two hours into the operation, she sent a text, “They said everything is going fine but the operation is still continuing.” At 11:46 a.m., 3 ½ hours into the operation, I texted, “No word yet? It’s time for it to be over!”

Mattie’s mom texted right back, “I’m thinking it has been too long.”

I responded, “Yes, it has been too long. Let’s try to keep calm. So far, I’ve had a Ho Ho [a chocolate cake with cream filling], a strawberry cream cheese cookie, and a Mr. Goodbar. Ice cream is next!”

Why was the surgery taking so long? All kinds of worries raced through my brain. At 12:13 p.m., Mattie’s mom called to say the doctor met with her and the surgery went well. She slept at the hospital with Mattie that night and cared for her at a nearby hotel the entire week until her follow-up doctor appointment.

Most of us could think of countless other “Mom to the rescue” stories. It’s probably a good idea to thank them now and then.

Ice cream might make the world a sweeter place, at least for a few minutes, but the mother-child bond is forever. Mothers come in a variety of brands, such as Grandmother, Mother-in-Law, and Like-A-Mother. All of them serve love in lots of flavors – “hugs and kisses,” “listening and advice,” and “home cooking” are three of my favorites.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments. Happy Mother’s Day!

A Moment of Thanks … and a Little More

I’ll soon be posting my MoMENts column for May titled, “The Taste of Love.” Though the upcoming column touches on my passion for ice cream, it focuses on something even more important … you’ll find out what in a few more days.

Now that I have your attention, I wanted to take a moment to give thanks. It’s hard to believe I’m coming up on the six-year anniversary of my monthly “MoMENts” column. Recently, MoMENts surpassed 500 times published. Even in my “dream big” thinking, I would have never imagined my column would hit regional parenting magazines and newspapers 500 times, spanning 22 states and two Canadian provinces.

Did I do it on my own? Of course not. I could spend hours if I thanked everyone involved in my writing journey. Instead, I’ll continue to thank them in person and in the privacy of my prayers. Today, though, I want to thank my readers for their notes, encouragement, and continued support. The writing profession is not an easy one, and I can’t tell you how much your kind and supporting words have meant to me.

Happily, I had enough columns for a book. MoMENts: A Dad Holds On is a great book for mothers, fathers, and grandparents. Would I make this post in early May to catch readers who are searching for the perfect Mother’s Day gift? Ok, you caught me. The book is available in print and Kindle on Amazon and my website, http://www.patrickhempfing.com, includes a “Buy It Now at Amazon.com” button. Autographed copies can be purchased at the following locations:

Pennsylvania

    The Reader’s Café
    Hanover, PA

Virginia

    Chapters Bookshop
    Galax, VA

South Carolina

    Seneca Family Restaurant
    Seneca, SC

Georgia

    The Rosengart Gallery
    Statesboro, GA
    East Georgia Regional Medical Center
    The Gift Shop
    Statesboro, GA

Florida

    Orange Door Gift Boutique
    Oviedo, FL
    Writer’s Block Bookstore
    Winter Park, FL

I would appreciate it if you would share this post with friends and family members who might also be looking for that perfect gift. Did I mention that Father’s Day is June 18?

Thank you for being part of my “Cherish the MoMENts” community and for staying in touch when you like something I wrote. Remember to cherish the moments!

The Hold-on Zone

“Dad, one of my friends from first period said you were cool.” Jessie, my 12-year-old daughter shared this comment with me, right before I gave a presentation to her sixth-grade creative writing class.

I’ve given presentations in board rooms, churches, even to first-grade and second-grade classes, but never to sixth graders. Jessie couldn’t wait for this day. She even began working on a Prezi for me. Prezi is “presentation software that uses motion, zoom, and spatial relationships to bring your ideas to life.” During my accounting career, I brought my ideas to life in audit reports.

Sometimes I voluntarily go outside my comfort zone, other times I’m pushed or pulled. Often, it’s Jessie doing the pushing and pulling. I can’t say three, 47-minute classes with approximately 30 students each fell within my comfort zone, especially going into unchartered waters with Prezi.

Looking back through my fatherhood days, I’ve concluded the comfort zone has a neighboring area, called the “hold-on zone,” where parents spend a lot of their time.

I held on to my stomach contents when Jessie’s doctor delivered her via C-section. Seated by my wife’s head, I never considered peeking over the blue-paper divider where the doctor was performing the operation. I’m confident my comfort zone would have changed to a prone position on the floor had I taken a glance.

I visited the hold-on zone again the next day, ironically, because of what Jessie failed to hold onto, which was now filling her diaper. I’d never seen anything like it. I learned later that what I saw was meconium, a mixture of bile, mucus, and amniotic fluid, but at the time I had a different word for it – “Nurse!” It’s okay to ask for help when one hits the outer bounds of his hold-on zone.

I’m never in my comfort zone when Jessie is ill. Mattie and I almost took Jessie to the emergency room when she suffered her first ear infection at 14-months old. At age 11, Jessie came down with pneumonia and we did take her to the emergency room. My comfort zone and hospital zones don’t have much overlap.

Then there was the time Jessie, age 3, pulled my tennis shorts down in the church elevator. Jessie lost her balance and grabbed the pockets on each side of my shorts. I wasn’t the only one out of my comfort zone, standing there in my jock strap. I’m sure the mother in the elevator was outside of hers, too. Hold-on zone? Hold on to my shorts!

My guess is that the boundaries of my comfort zone will continue to be tested when Jessie’s teenage years arrive. I won’t be in my comfort zone in the passenger seat with Jessie behind the wheel of the car. “Hold on, Dad!”

How will I feel when the doorbell rings and a young man with flowers is ready to take Jessie on a date? Will I be in my comfort zone as I sit in the back of her date’s car or in the rear of the movie theater? Probably not, but maybe closer to it than if I let her go alone.

Back to my presentation day with Jessie’s middle school creative writing classes. Overall, I thought all three presentations went well and Jessie’s teacher invited me back next semester. As the kids left the classroom, I had a basket of candy (an idea one of Jessie’s classmates suggested) and each 6th grader took a piece.

When I drove Jessie home from school later that afternoon, I asked, “How did I do?” Jessie, always honest, responded, “You did half-decent, Dad.” She suggested I eliminate a few “umms” and make a few tweaks to the Prezi. I thanked Jessie for her constructive feedback and said, “Well, at least I was cool with the first-period class.” Jessie responded, “Oh, my friend said you were cool because you gave out candy.” Wow, I went from cool to half-decent to cool only because of candy.

Whether it’s a comfort zone or the hold-on zone, this I know. We grow with new experiences. Sometimes we’ll win and be cool. Other times, we’ll be half-decent or worse. Sometimes we might need to ask for help or even fail.

I’m confident Jessie will continue to fill my fatherhood days, and a few Prezi presentations, with zooms and motion. Hold-on zone, here I come. But I’ll be okay. I’m keeping a basket of candy nearby.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments.

Don’t Cry Over Spilled Grits

My 12-year-old daughter, Jessie, hates shots but somehow made it through all her vaccinations. Dad, on the other hand, is still recovering from her office visits.

I sat down to write this month’s column at the end of a grueling week. Little did I realize that a shot my mother-in-law received for bronchitis would be one of the week’s highlights.

Like any other week, there were a few inconveniences I could have done without. I returned from my morning walk to find dog poop smashed to the bottom of my sneaker. Then, I dropped my favorite pair of sunglasses on the bathroom floor, breaking the frames. I needed a haircut and stopped at the barbershop. When I got home and looked in the mirror, I noticed the hair was about an inch longer over one ear than the other. To get both sides even I had to return to the shop the next day. Then there’s my aging computer that crashes daily, which is not a good thing for a writer. But, in the whole scheme of life, these were minor inconveniences.

A spilled 24 oz. carton of grits is a slightly bigger deal. For readers who are unfamiliar, grits are ground corn and have the consistency of coarse sand. While putting away groceries, I lifted the round cardboard container from the top shelf of the pantry and it slipped from my fingers. Grits sprayed over everything – the food on two pantry shelves, the clothes in the laundry basket, and under the washer and dryer. The miniscule particles even covered the vacuum cleaner I needed for cleanup. But even this paled in comparison to the next challenge.

A lump appeared near my wife’s left ear in December. On Christmas Eve, Mattie had a CT scan that showed a tumor. Life can be sailing along, maybe with minor inconveniences like broken sunglasses, a subpar haircut, and an avalanche of grits, but when a tumor enters the picture, life changes. Mattie’s doctor suggested that the tumor be biopsied, but it took two weeks and five days to get the procedure and wait for the results. Those who have gone through this know that waiting is tough. The radiologist performed the biopsy on Monday and told Mattie the results would be back within 24-48 hours. Mattie called on Tuesday. No report. She called again Wednesday. Still no results. By this time, I was comforting myself with four ice cream cones, two for lunch and two at bedtime. Mattie said if I didn’t cut back, the next doctor we might be seeing would be for diabetes.

Fortunately, late Thursday afternoon we received good news – no cancer. This put everything else in perspective. Though the tumor will need to be removed, Mattie will be okay.

A couple days after receiving the great news, Mattie’s mother, whose bronchitis hadn’t completely cleared after a course of antibiotics, texted early in the morning, “I just got out of the doctor’s office. Got a shot in my behind and some prescriptions. I certainly am awake.”

Mattie typed back, “So is whoever gave you the shot.”

Mattie informed Jessie, “Grandmommy got a shot in the rear end.”

Jessie, remembering her vaccinations at the pediatrician’s office where the nurse used a plastic device to ease the pain of the needle, asked, “Did the doctor use a shot-blocker?”

Mattie, apparently having a mental picture of a nurse holding a piece of plastic on her mom’s behind with one hand and a needle in the other, cracked up laughing. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Jessie and I couldn’t help but join in the laughter. It felt great to laugh.

This leads me to several takeaways. I’m thankful I have the time and good health to walk my dog, even if I have to clean my sneakers afterward. I’m fortunate to have the resources to replace sunglasses, get haircuts, and buy a new computer. I’m thankful for health insurance and modern medicine that can diagnose problems quickly. I’m even lucky to have a good vacuum cleaner.

Last, but important, laughter is one of our greatest gifts. It serves as a “shot-blocker” when life is challenging. Grandmommy, thank you for taking one for the team! The laughter you provided was the shot in the arm we needed, though I’m sorry you were the butt of the laugh.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments and laugh at the funny ones.

Note: My favorite mother-in-law, now fully recovered, approved this message.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

“Love you, Daddy.” My 12-year-old daughter, Jessie, slammed the car door and off to school she went, toting her book bag, lunchbox, and clarinet. I drove out of the school parking lot happy.

Each day, parents experience numerous joys and challenges. In my 12 years as a stay-at-home dad, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.

“Love you, Daddy” provides a perfect example of the good. I never get tired of hearing those words.

We experienced the bad earlier this year when Jessie had pneumonia. Any time Jessie is crying is also bad, which happened a good bit this year because my wife, Mattie, took a new job in another state and Jessie had to leave her friends.

Then there’s the ugly – Jessie learning to play the clarinet fits that bill.

Early in August, Mattie and I registered Jessie for 6th grade. The middle school receptionist handed us a course selection form and said to number the electives in order of our preference. Jessie wanted to take Drama I. Since she already excels in “daily drama,” I didn’t see the need for this course. In fact, I think she could teach it. However, Mattie and I approved Jessie selecting it number one on her list of electives.

With Jessie’s first preferred elective checked off, we went through the rest of the options. Robotics, no problem. Art, great idea. Beginning Band? Mattie wanted Jessie to learn to read music and play an instrument. Jessie had no interest in taking Beginning Band. I could have gone either way. It’s amazing how three people in the same family can think so differently.

Sadly for Jessie, she didn’t get into Drama I, her top choice. Beginning Band, however, would be her first class each day.

Little did I realize, things would only get more complicated when the band teacher invited parents to his classroom to discuss instrument options. The band director felt that Jessie’s mouth shape made the clarinet a good choice for her. That worked fine for me. I just didn’t want Jessie beating away on drums or clanging cymbals. Mattie envisioned her daughter playing the flute. Jessie didn’t care. We watched online videos of both instruments. Although the flute makes beautiful sounds in the hands of a skilled musician, videos of students making high-pitched squeals on the flute convinced us to choose the clarinet.

Next, Jessie had to learn to play it. I’ve helped Jessie with her homework throughout her school years, but never before have I had to wear earplugs. As it turns out, the clarinet can also make high-pitched squealing sounds.

We had just moved into an apartment and I didn’t want to force our neighbors, or our dog, to listen to clarinet practice. So I took Jessie, along with my earplugs, to our pickup truck to complete her band homework.

The first week, Jessie blew into the mouthpiece, attached only to the barrel (not the rest of the clarinet), for as long as she could – 5, 7, 10 seconds and more, emitting a loud unpleasant sound. I sat beside her in the truck, timing her as she repeated this exercise to improve her lung capacity and mouth position. I doubted that Jessie needed practice for her lung capacity as she can speak paragraphs without taking a breath. As Jessie practiced, I squinted my eyes, cupped my hands over my plugged ears … and thought about the advantages of Drama I.

Speed ahead to the winter concert. A proud dad, not wearing earplugs, sat in the school auditorium. The band director, with his little white baton, led the class of more than 100 students in an impressive performance. Four months earlier, most of them couldn’t even name their instruments.

This leads me to two key takeaways. First, I need to get myself one of those little white batons. They apparently convey special powers to get kids to obey instructions. Second, something might start out bad or ugly, but not stay that way. Jessie recovered from her pneumonia and loves living in her new home state. There were times I thought about hiding Jessie’s clarinet. However, just by hanging on, and sometimes inserting earplugs, the clarinet turned out to be good, too.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments … and take out the earplugs to hear “I love you.”

New City, New Book, New Website … New Barber?

Change dominated this year. Our family’s move to central Florida topped the list. I also launched my first book, MoMENts: A Dad Holds On. The book compiles my monthly columns dating back to when I began my writing career in September, 2011, along with new material, and is for sale on Amazon.com. There is a paperback and a Kindle version. If you’ve read it, please take a few minutes to write a review.

For anyone considering a move and a book launch, here’s a tip – it’s probably best not to schedule these activities simultaneously. Selling a house, moving, and launching a book take time and each of them can be stressful. I definitely felt stress when the Mayflower van pulled up in front of our house before we had finished packing. Promoting my book took a backseat to getting the house ready to sell, moving our belongings and finding them again in our new state, and getting our daughter ready for her new middle school.

With the family now settled in, it’s time to nurture the new “baby.” Once a book is out, it requires the author’s attention. Unlike my first baby, it doesn’t need burped, but it does need marketed.

I’m happy to announce my new website, www.patrickhempfing.com. Please share it with friends and family and sign up for the “Cherish the MoMENts” community. As a follower, you’ll receive my blog posts and hear about contests, special promotions, and new book releases. If you received my blog in the past, you do not need to sign up again, but please encourage your friends to sign up.

New city, new book, new website. Last week, I had lunch with friends in Gainesville, Florida, where we lived twenty years ago. As I stepped out of my car, my dear friend greeted me with, “I see a few more gray hairs than the last time I saw you.” We laughed. I informed her that I just had a haircut and gave my barber strict instructions to “cut out all the gray ones.” Humm, do I need to look for a new barber? No, she probably didn’t want to leave me bald.

I’ll just have to go with the experienced look over a youthful one when I post pictures to my new website. At least the gray hairs survived the move.