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.

The Ferretastic 4th of July

As a writer and father, I sometimes wish I could change the ending to my real-life stories. “The tired dad found plenty of energy to keep up with his daughter.” “The worried dad relaxed as he knew his daughter would make good decisions.” “The quick-to-comment dad listened intently while his daughter shared her thoughts and feelings over a well-balanced dinner at the kitchen table.” “The formerly impatient dad transformed into an unflappable father … and his family lived happily ever after in perfect harmony.”

Conversely, sometimes the real-life story ends just right. No fiction writer could compose a more inspired ending, even if they toiled for hours trying. I’ve been blessed with many of these happy stories during the past twelve years as a stay-at-home dad to an awesome daughter and an outstanding wife.

The stories come and go, some repeat and others flash by only once. It’s up to me to make the most of them, hold on through the challenging ones, and try to learn from and appreciate them. Sometimes, I can find teachable moments as the stories unfold. I can even write entertaining stories about a few of them.

One of the great joys of watching a daughter mature is that she can start to write her own stories, both figuratively and literally. That’s been the case as my daughter, Jessie, plows through her tween years. Here’s one we wanted to share.

    Jessie, Age 12
    Yesterday was the 4th of July 2017! I sure had an exciting one! First, I went to a family party. I ate food, played with family, made slime with my cousin, and went swimming. That was an amazing time and helped to contribute to the 4th of July fun!

    Next, Daddy and I went for a walk to see fireworks. We live in an apartment in a pretty populated and popular part of town. We had fireworks blasting in the night sky from every direction!

    Finally, we went up the hill to the amphitheater lawn. You will never guess what we saw.

    Really, try! This was the highlight of my day!

    I saw, petted, and held a ferret on a leash! His name was Oliver, and he was 3 years old. It was really friendly and soft. It was also super clean! It was really fun to play with … even if it did pee on my shirt. Now, here’s Dad.

A happy story, one I wouldn’t change – except maybe the part where I had to pretreat the laundry for ferret urine.

As Jessie explained, we had an exciting July 4th with some favorite summer activities: eating, swimming, playing, and spending quality time with family. All that made for a good real-life dad story. Yet, I’d like to focus on the events after the family party that made the story even better.

When we arrived home, even though I had only watched the slime and didn’t exert energy in making it, as the author and protagonist father in our story, I was tired. Here’s where I could have inserted the happy ending, “The fatigued father grabbed a good book and pushed back his recliner. A broad smile came to his face as he reflected on the wonderful day with his family.”

However, the real-life story continued with Dad and daughter walking around the apartment complex and the adjacent park taking in fireworks displays from around the city. Exhausted? Yes. But with each booming firecracker, my energy level increased.

Then we reached the amphitheater lawn and met Oliver. Who would have thought Jessie’s “highlight of my day” would be a ferret on a leash that used her shirt as a bathroom?

Had I surrendered to my craving for a good book and comfortable chair, the story’s real-life ending wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable or memorable. I’m so glad I summoned the energy to take in the spectacular fireworks and unexpected ferret visit. This July 4th we didn’t just have a good Independence Day, we shared a ferretastic moment we’ll always remember.

But whether Jessie is petting a ferret on a leash or Dad is throwing a shirt into the washing machine, 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.

Different Standards

Jessie loves to travel, especially when the trip requires staying at a hotel. Her mom, Mattie, has taken us along on several of her work trips, which are often in tourist-friendly cities at excellent hotels. This works fine when Mattie’s employer reimburses her for travel expenses. However, Jessie has set her hotel standards at the level of these super-nice conference hotels and super-nice is expensive.

When I told Jessie that I was planning a two-city, daddy-daughter book tour, she turned from a 12-year-old, sixth-grade student to a seasoned travel agent right before my eyes. After racing for my phone, Jessie got right down to business, searching for the best deals. If I had been holding my smartphone, I’d be typing this column with less than a full complement of fingers. Let’s get Jessie’s thoughts on hotel accommodations.

    Jessie, Age 12
    Dad and I are planning a trip. I have been trying to convince him to book us at a nice hotel. I have shown him the prices for the different rooms. I enjoy fancy hotels and as an animal lover, I’m happy this hotel is pet friendly, as I hope to spot some dogs I can pet. I also like the complimentary breakfast and enjoy bringing orange juice, apple juice, fruit, oatmeal, or cereal back to our room for my much-needed SNACK!!! I hope I can convince Dad why this hotel is the correct choice for us!

When Jessie was young and all the other rooms at the hotel where Mattie needed to stay were sold out, Mattie once had to book a room in the “Club Level” with free drinks and snacks throughout the day in the “Club Lounge.” Since it was in a fun city, Jessie and I went along. That’s where Jessie learned the word “hors d’oeuvres.” Who would have guessed this would make her think that a “much-needed SNACK!!!” is an essential hotel amenity.

Now, let me point out that I also like nice hotels and stayed in a few of them when I traveled on business. Like Jessie, I have quality standards when selecting hotels, but my criteria are different than hers. Safety is of paramount importance. The room must also be clean and smoke-free. Last, but not least, I don’t want bugs of any variety sharing my bed or any part of my room. Unlike Jessie, I also have financial standards, and I won’t break the bank for a place to sleep.

We took our book tour road trip and had a wonderful time. Much to Jessie’s disappointment, however, we stayed at a hotel that cost $50 a night less than her preferred choice at our first stop. I don’t know if it allowed dogs – it didn’t matter as our dog stayed home with Mattie. Safe, clean, smoke- and bug-free, I found it satisfactory. The price mattered to me.

I pointed out the savings to Jessie, who also enjoys other activities that cost money. “That’s a lot of book sales, Jessie! You could take several saxophone lessons with that much money.”

Jessie understood the numbers. Still, when we arrived at the hotel, she was less than impressed with the room’s cleanliness and shared her inner critic with me – several times. She even took it upon herself to clean the entire hotel room upon our arrival. Not only did I save money, I found out Jessie has strong cleaning skills. This knowledge will come in handy when I remind her to clean her room and it doesn’t end up spotless.

At our second city, we spent two nights at a different hotel. This room, recently remodeled, met Jessie’s immediate approval without her lifting a finger. I witnessed a complete change in Jessie’s attitude.

Apparently, attitude – and an extra $30 per night – make a difference.

I look forward to future trips with Jessie. Breaking away from our daily routines and spending time together in a car and hotel bring out different conversations. We get to know each other better and to learn about other people and places, too. It doesn’t need to be super-expensive to be super-fun.

But whether Jessie is enjoying her much-needed snack at a quality hotel or at home cleaning her untidy room, 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! May we always provide our children with the highest standard of love.

Little Joy in Mealville

I take pride in tackling my stay-at-home dad responsibilities. I’m pretty good at them, too. Being good at something and enjoying the task, however, are two different things. For instance, dusting is my least-favorite household chore. I find this task more satisfying when a heavy coating of dust has accumulated. But sometimes I look at the dust-coated tennis trophies on my bookshelf and question, Why did I win so many?

With dusting at the top of my least-favorite list of household duties, preparing meals is a close second. Every single day, three times a day, breakfast, lunch, and supper time roll around.

Preparing meals is challenging on a number of fronts. First, I’m not the best of cooks. My wife, Mattie, still laughs at the time we were newlyweds when I decided to fry hamburgers for the first time. I used a rubber spatula meant to scrape cake batter to flip the burgers.

“Why is one-fifth of my spatula missing?” My investigation didn’t take long. White flecks of rubber dotted the burgers in my frying pan. Case closed. I don’t think too many cookbooks include photos of burgers topped with melted rubber snowflakes.

Since I’ve become the stay-at-home parent, I’m a much better cook, though I still wouldn’t brag. If practice makes perfect, I’m in need of a whole lot more.

Second, it’s not always a question of how to make something, but rather what to make each day, three times a day. There are only so many ways I know how to make chicken, and Mattie and Jessie aren’t red-meat eaters. Jessie must have heard I made hamburgers filled with white flecks of rubber. We can’t eat at restaurants all the time, either. I need money in the budget to buy Swiffer dusters.

Last, but not least, I want to serve healthy meals for my family. Healthy meals and a finicky tween don’t go well together. From day one, vegetables haven’t been Jessie’s best friend. I can understand her spitting out some of that stuff I tried to feed her from baby jars. Pureed green beans, blah. Pureed peas, yuck. Who knows, maybe that’s when I set the tone for Jessie’s lack of desire for vegetables.

Then, during her early school years, there was a time I think Jessie would have eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for all 21 meals during the week if I had let her. She might have substituted a few helpings of macaroni and cheese for variety.

Now, during the tween years, it seems that Jessie’s menu has shrunk even more. She’s even tired of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Maybe it’s time I bring Jessie in with her thoughts.

    Jessie, Age 12
    I guess I am a bit of a picky eater. I don’t eat much meat or products with meat or gelatin in them. I am an animal lover and feel bad for the poor animals that died to make my food. I do eat a bit of chicken and rarely a marshmallow. Sorry chickens. I’m also a picky eater when it comes to veggies. I eat some of them, but others such as mushrooms aren’t my favorite. Lastly, I get tired of foods a lot. These things really restrict the things Dad can feed me, especially since he isn’t a professional cook. He only really started being the full-time cook since I was born. Basically, my diet consists of fruit, pasta, hard-boiled eggs, and anything with bread in it! Now, let’s get back to Dad.

After reading Jessie’s take, I’m reversing the order of my least-favorite household chores – cooking number one, dusting in second, and I’ll save the topic of ironing for another column.

But whether I’m spreading peanut butter on bread or pushing a dust cloth, 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! I miss my mother’s delicious cooking – free of melted rubber.