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.

Spare the Bug

“Daddy! Bug!”

Jessie often yells these words. Part of my job description as dad includes keeping a bug-free home. Although Jessie wants every bug removed, she is unwilling to execute the task herself, even for the tiniest bugs. When Jessie calls, Dad comes running with a tissue, paper towel, or sneaker. The task seems simple enough, but then comes Jessie’s next statement.

“Dad, don’t kill it!”

That’s right, I’m supposed to gently transport the trespassing bug out of the house and set it free in the great outdoors. In most cases, I’m quick enough to capture and remove the insect so Jessie can move on with her activities uninterrupted. Unfortunately for the bug, unless it’s a ladybug or a lightning bug, trespassers are prosecuted to the fullest extent. Ants, mosquitos, gnats, moths, flies, cockroaches, and other unidentifiable critters are squeezed with a tissue or paper towel, swatted with a flyswatter, or smashed with the bottom of my sneaker. Before I go any further, let’s bring in Jessie with her thoughts.

    Jessie, Age 12
    This column is about bugs. I feel that you should save the slimy creatures when you can, because if a giant was trying to step on you, you wouldn’t like it. They have a life just like you do, and you shouldn’t take it away. They have friends, a family, and a spouse, just like you. You don’t have to kill them to get them out of your house.

    A good tip is to take a cup and place it over the creepy crawler. Then slide a sheet of paper under the cup. Take the whole thing outside and release the bug. Now that is a good way to get a bug out of the house without killing it. Let’s get back to Dad.

I’m thankful Jessie has a compassionate heart. She’s right. I certainly wouldn’t want a giant to chase after me and squeeze me between his fingers or squash me with his big shoe. I’d like to think that at 6’5”, I’m a kind, compassionate “giant,” however, bugs can spread disease or leave itchy bite marks. They must go, never to return.

As defender of our house, I view my duty as protector of the family, so my wife, daughter, dog and I can sleep and not get bitten, crawled on, and whatever else bugs do. Don’t you hate it when a mosquito zooms into your ear and makes that miserable buzzing noise while you’re trying to sleep?

Many years ago, shortly after we moved to Florida, a bug nearly caused me to wreck. My wife, Mattie, and I were driving down the road soaking up the Gainesville sunshine when something flew through the open window. I glanced down and there, sitting on the seat between Mattie and me, was the biggest cockroach I had ever seen. In the South, they’re called “Palmetto bugs” and they are humongous. As calmly as I could, I pulled over to the shoulder and we were able to shoo the bug out of the vehicle.

The way I see it, a “giant” can’t please everyone. When you live in the South, no matter how many times you spray or clean the house, a cockroach will occasionally trespass. If Mattie sees it before Jessie, I’ll hear, “Pat! Cockroach, come quick!”

I’ll come running with paper towel in hand or sneaker on foot to address the problem. So, I view myself as a protector of my family, not a destroyer of bugs’ families, a position that disappoints my daughter.

Though I applaud Jessie’s compassionate spirit, I don’t see myself running after bugs with a cup and sheet of paper. Okay, to be honest, I have done this a few times. Dads want to look good in front of their children.

But whether I’m chasing a bug with a tissue, paper towel, or sneaker, or Jessie has a cup and sheet of paper in her hands, 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 Shower Star

“You don’t rush a Hempfing.” Growing up, my mom said this when she was frustrated with my father for moving slower than she wanted. My dad, a calm man, had his own pace, which often conflicted with my mom’s harried one. I’ve inherited a bit of my dad’s DNA, because although I wish I could crank out columns and publish books in record-setting style, the words move from my brain to my fingers at their own pace.

Jessie has her own pace, too. If I could accumulate all the time I’ve waited for her and put it to use, I might have several books published by now. Okay, maybe not books, but certainly an extra column or two. Parenting requires patience.

On the positive side, when Jessie begins to date, I’ll have lots of time to ask her friend questions and discuss his intentions, because Jessie won’t be ready. Then again, the thought of Dad grilling her date just might speed Jessie up.

Jessie’s slow pace is most evident when she showers. The scene in our household plays out something like this.

Jessie goes into the bathroom, shuts the door, and the sound of water pouring in the tub begins. It continues for 10 minutes or so and stops.

Sloshing sounds come from the tub.

Many minutes pass. The water comes on again and the sound of the shower starts.

The arm on the clock makes a full quarter turn. Dad knocks on the bathroom door.

“Jessie, it’s time to get out of the shower.”

“I’m almost done.”

Dad knocks again – 15 minutes later.

“Your mom and I would like some hot water, too.”

“I’m on my final rinse.”

Jessie stars in this daily repeat performance, so I’ll let her share her view from the other side of the bathroom door.

    Jessie, Age 10

    My mother, father, and I have always had a disagreement about the proper length of showers. My mother and father think that 15 minutes is fine. I disagree. First, I like about an hour to soak in the tub. Then I still take around 30 minutes in the shower. I get inspired by the water trickling over me. I make up songs and dance routines. I try songs already made up, with different voices. Some include southern, goofy, and prissy.

    Also, I can’t hear myself sing over the pitter patter of the water hitting the plastic bottom of the tub, so I just sing louder. My parents don’t like to hear loud screaming coming from the bathroom, so they shorten the length of my showers. I am silent when rushed. Now back to Dad.

It’s hard to get my girl to care about the water and electric bill, and I’m amazed our hot water heater hasn’t worn out. I’m not shocked, though, that little hot water is available for me if I jump into the shower after Jessie has finished hers. So yes, I’ve tried to get her to pick up the pace. Like my mom trying to speed up my dad, it hasn’t done much good.

Since Jessie brought it up, I must discuss her “song and dance routines.” Writing takes focus, and during Jessie’s showers, I hear a lot more than the pitter patter of our water bill going up. Our little “shower star” doesn’t shower quietly … or carefully. Her dance routines sometimes involve jumps and spins landing with loud bangs, which we’ve discouraged on grounds that a slippery shower is not the best surface for leaps and turns.

Often, Jessie’s mom or I have asked Jessie to “tone it down.” However, there are more times when we glance at each other and smile or laugh during Jessie’s shower performances. She’s always been artistic. We certainly don’t want to drain her spirits, silence her joyful voice, or stop her from expressing the dance in her heart. We are blessed. Our daughter is healthy and happy – and clean. She has taught us that inspiration can’t be rushed.

But no matter how expensive the water bill gets or how noisy my work environment becomes, 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.

Choice of Words

My 10-year-old daughter, Jessie, doesn’t seem to understand the simplest of phrases. She is a strong reader and a good writer, so she obviously has command of the English language. That’s why I’m baffled by her inability to comprehend clear sentences such as:

“Jessie, make your bed.”

“Clean up your room, Jessie”

“You have 10 minutes to get ready before it’s time to leave.”

Doesn’t Jessie understand the language I speak? Of course, she does, and I’m sure I’m not the only parent who utters the above requests – often.

But I wonder, why is it that my words don’t have the intended effect?

During a recent game of basketball in the driveway, I used the word “B-ball.” Jessie’s eyes squinted like someone had just scratched a chalkboard with their fingernails.


Apparently, there are times when the words from my mouth don’t settle well on Jessie’s ears. I asked her to share her impression of my language for this column. Here are her thoughts.

    Jessie, Age 10
    I love my dad a lot, but sometimes it can be kind of annoying when he says things like “B-ball” instead of basketball. It’s a little bit embarrassing, too. Plus, isn’t “B-ball” 15th century?

    Another thing he says is, “She was just my little baby, now she’s 10!” He has a point, but it’s still embarrassing. I do it, too. I do it to our dog, Sadie. She is still my little baby. Haven’t we all felt the sadness and joy of “She was just my little baby?” Now let’s get back to Daddy.

Wow! I’m caught off guard by Jessie’s comments that my vocabulary is “kind of annoying” and “a little bit embarrassing.” I know I’m an older dad, but “15th century”? I’ve thought about confining her in the “dungeon” of her messy room until she managed to clean it, but I never stated it.

Perhaps I could say, “Oh, tween daughter, when your clothes disembark from your body, please have them make their way to the hamper in an orderly fashion to await their date with our high-efficiency, front-loaded washing machine.” Is that 21st century language?

Or as I stand by the door awaiting the pleasure of Jessie’s company on the drive to her school, I could inquire, “Wherefore art thou, daughter?” Now I’m talking 15th century.

My attempt at humor would likely not impress Jessie. Yet, on a serious note, I don’t want to have a communication gap with my daughter, and I certainly don’t want my language to embarrass her, especially in front of her friends. So, I’m thankful Jessie expressed her true thoughts. I want her to share her feelings with her mom and me in a respectful tone. Keeping an open path of communication between us will only grow more important over the coming years.

The key point I learned from Jessie’s comments is that my choice of words matters. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how I express myself and if there are ways I can do it better. I like to be funny and make people laugh. Perhaps I go too far sometimes, talk too much, or even repeat requests (clean your room) or thoughts (She was just my little baby) too many times. And I know that when I’m stressed, I transmit it to others by talking too much and too fast. So, I’m going to try to be more intentional with my language, though I realize that every word, phrase, or sentence I speak will not please everyone.

I’m reminded of the time I concluded a column with “I kissed my sleeping angel on the forehead.”

“Dad, I don’t like sleeping angel.” My mouth dropped. What’s wrong with sleeping angel? It’s hard for a dad to keep up with the sensibilities of a young daughter, even if he tries. At least, I didn’t say “princess.”

But whether my words are 15th or 21st century, 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! Share kind words with loved ones and make them feel special. “I love you” is a phrase that can’t be repeated too many times … even to your dog who was just a puppy.

Safe at Home

Jessie is a blessed girl. In her young life, she’s already had many wonderful experiences. She’s been to the beach, the zoo, and even to Disney. She takes dance classes and plays a musical instrument. She has many friends and spends quality time with her grandparents and her uncle, aunt, and favorite 4-year-old cousin. She even gets to use more than her fair share of hot water to take the long showers she finds so relaxing and conducive for singing. Jessie is a lucky girl indeed.

However, Jessie makes one request that her mom, Mattie, and I have repeatedly denied. Jessie would like to go to sleepovers at friends’ houses. Let’s hear her perspective.

    Jessie, Age 10
    I’m old enough to have sleepovers with my friends. I think that my parents should try to let me go to one and see how it works. Most of my friends have been having them since Pre-K. Just because things were different when my parents were young doesn’t mean that I should have the same. I’ll keep trying and maybe they’ll change their minds.

My guess is that many parents, and all of Jessie’s friends, will side with her tween perspective. Would it hurt for Jessie to have a sleepover with friends? With a 99% degree of certainty, I’d predict she would have a wonderful time, maybe not get enough sleep, but have a positive experience. However, as a cautious father, there’s that 1% chance of trouble. Therefore, Jessie sleeps at home in her own cozy bed, with her 22-pound guard dog. As a result, I sleep well, too.

I remember a discussion between Mattie and her mother that occurred the year after we got married. Mattie noticed that her dad took long naps each time we visited. Mattie’s dad has always worked hard and deserves a nap any chance he gets. However, it hurt Mattie’s feelings that her dad repeatedly slept when she had driven 45 minutes to see him. So, during one visit while Mattie’s dad dozed, she spoke with her mom.

“Mom, it seems like every time I come over, Dad goes to sleep.”

Mattie’s mom responded, “He hasn’t slept well since you left home. When you are here, he knows his girl is home safe and sound, so he can rest.”

Until recently, I hadn’t given their conversation much thought. Now, that I’m a father, though, it makes sense.

Will Mattie and I ever change our minds on sleepovers? Possibly. And it’s not like Jessie hasn’t experienced sleeping away from home. On occasion, she spends the night with her grandparents. A few times, she’s even stayed overnight with her cousin. It’s the sleepover “with friends” that she’s missed out on.

Obviously, Mattie and I can’t shield Jessie from all of life’s dangers. Trouble lurks in places we don’t always suspect. Jessie is independent, which is a good thing, and Mattie and I want her to enjoy life, not shy away from it. Like all responsible parents, we want to put our children in places and situations where she’ll have a chance to grow, but not be in harm’s way. The right thing to do isn’t always clear, and many parenting decisions aren’t easy.

But whether Jessie is resting in her bed at home or in a sleeping bag at a friend’s house, one thing is certain ’tween daughter and dad, I love my girl and my girl loves me. And should Jessie ever sleep over at a friend’s house, I’ll likely take a long nap when she returns home the next day.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments. Happy New Year! We wish you a happy, safe, and prosperous 2019.

And the Winner is …

Competition. There aren’t many people who enjoy good, friendly competition more than me. My tennis buddies will confirm this. A couple of them have even said I should become a motivational speaker because I like to talk while holding a tennis racquet. Just the other evening, one of my tennis friends was going to call it a night but decided to play another set after some friendly inspiration.

With three siblings, including both an older and younger brother, I grew up in a competitive environment. No one hated to lose more than my older brother, and he always challenged me to give 120%. Plus, speaking from experience, an older brother never likes to lose to his younger one.

My 10-year-old daughter, Jessie, is becoming more competitive, but this wasn’t always the case. On one occasion when Jessie played chess with a friend at school, she excitedly told me, “Rodney took my queen.” Trying not to drop my head, I told her it’s not a good thing when your opponent takes your queen. With that said, I’m proud of her for always being a good sport. Good sportsmanship matters more than winning. Jessie and I shake hands after each game we play, whether it’s basketball in the driveway or Chutes and Ladders on her bedroom floor.

Recently, I encountered a new competitor and I must admit, she is a worthy adversary. Her name is J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter fantasy series. Over the past few months, my wife and daughter have become addicted to her novels.

Mattie, my wife, reads Ms. Rowling’s work into the wee hours of the morning. Recently, I took a short trip and left Mattie with a present, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7). A few nights before I left, she had finished the sixth book in the series. When I called her from my hotel room later that day, she found the book by her bedroom pillow. I could feel her smile over the phone. They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but Harry Potter ranks right up there with Mattie at the moment. She’s going to have a lot more free time when she gets to the end of the last book.

Then, there’s my daughter, Jessie, who is a strong reader like her mom. Also like her mother, she is enthralled with Ms. Rowling’s work. Jessie has repeatedly encouraged me to read Harry Potter, as, in her opinion, it would make me a much better writer.

The competitor in me wants to say, “Okay, Ms. Rowling, bring it on!”

However, after watching my family’s eyes glued to the pages of her novels these past weeks, I think I’ll just thank her for inspiring me to improve my craft. Ms. Rowling, “Do you play tennis?”

It’s time to get Jessie’s perspective on competition? If J.K. Rowling and I had a writing contest, who do you think would win?

    Jessie, Age 10
    I like competition. Lately, I’ve become more competitive. I believe my father is a great writer, especially for just starting his career in 2011. However, J.K. Rowling is outstanding! She has written lots of novels. They are loads of fun to read. I enjoy her books very much! My father’s writing is very touching to the heart. Lots of other people can relate, while not many people can relate to being a magician. The final score, da da da da da da, J.K. Rowling wins. My dad needs to keep up the good work. He’s a close second.

The competitor in me doesn’t like to lose, but a close second to J.K. Rowling is encouraging. I will keep up the good work, so look out, Ms. Rowling. For now, in the name of good sportsmanship, I offer you my congratulations.

But whether I’m holding a racquet on the tennis court or reading Harry Potter, 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 Holidays! Books make great gifts, and since many of you have already read J.K. Rowling’s books, why not give mine a try? MoMENts: A Dad Holds On, available on Amazon, won Second Place in the Published General Catch-All Genre of the 2018 Royal Palm Literary Award Competition, a service of the Florida Writers Association.

“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.