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.

The Fill Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the record, I fill my drinks about 85-90% full – an appropriate range. But whether our cups are half-full or overflowing, one thing is certain ’tween daughter and dad, I love my girl and my girl loves me.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments. May your summer be filled with refreshing beverages that quench your thirst … but don’t stain your clothes.

We Need a Dog

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

“I want that one.”

“Ah, it’s sooooo cute.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But no matter how many dogs share our home, one thing is certain ’tween daughter and dad, I love my girl and my girl loves me.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments. Happy Father’s Day! Enjoy the sights and sounds of fatherhood – even a few untimely barks.

The Joy of Cooking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But whether Mattie and I enjoy a romantic dinner Jessie prepares or bandage a cut she sustains while learning, one thing is certain ’tween daughter and dad, I love my girl and my girl loves me.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments. Happy Mother’s Day to all the hard-working moms. Thank you for the important role you play as teachers.

Dye Worrying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But whether clothes and carpets are clean or stained, one thing is certain ’tween daughter and dad, I love my girl and my girl loves me.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments, even during science experiments and artistic endeavors. May all your worries turn into pleasant surprises.