The Fill Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Need a Dog

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

“I want that one.”

“Ah, it’s sooooo cute.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Joy of Cooking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dye Worrying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darker, Thicker Lashes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But whether Jessie’s makeup includes lipstick, eye shadow, and mascara or no makeup at all, one thing is certain ’tween daughter and dad, I love my girl and my girl loves me.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments.

Glitter, Glitter, and More Glitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But whether glitter is liked or disliked in this family, one thing is certain ’tween daughter and dad, I love my girl and my girl loves me.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments, even while vacuuming.

It’s Hard to Believe

It’s hard to believe that Valentine’s Day is next week. Come to think of it, lots of things are hard to believe. How can this former Pennsylvanian feel so cold when the temperature drops into the 40s here in Florida? How can I have a 13-year-old daughter who’s counting down the days until she can drive? How can my barber have so much trouble cutting out my gray hairs? I could go on.

But this post isn’t about chilly weather, a fast-growing daughter, or the color percentages of my hair (For the record, most of the ones that remain are brown). No, this post is to announce a new co-authored column and a book sale.

As I mentioned in my last column, my daughter and I worked on a writing project during her tween years (ages 9-12). We’re calling our new column, “Tween Daughter and Dad.” Each month, we’ll discuss a different topic from the perspective of a tween daughter and her father. The new column is like “MoMENts,” except my daughter presents the tween’s voice. She doesn’t always agree with her father … Isn’t that hard to believe? So, keep an eye out for our first post about a topic that relates to Valentine’s Day.

Speaking of Valentine’s Day, books make great gifts. From now through February 14, Amazon is selling my book, MoMENts: A Dad Holds On, for $9.99, a $5 savings from its $14.99 cover price. A price so low… it’s hard to believe! This book makes a great gift for mothers, fathers, and grandparents and is also available on Kindle ($2.99).

Please share this news with others. My valentine has always wanted to live on the beach, but it’s going to take thousands of sold books. One day, when I tell her I’ve sold enough books to make this dream come true, she will say, “It’s hard to believe.”

Until next post, keep chasing your dreams as you cherish the moments.

My Most Important Subject

Since September 2011, I’ve written a monthly column sharing the joys and challenges of parenting from the perspective of a stay-at-home dad. My daughter, Jessie, who just turned 13, gave me all the stories, some funny, others tender, and a few I could have done without. I can still remember my sneakers sticking to the kitchen floor as Jessie and I cleaned up strawberry juice and broken glass from the far reaches of our kitchen. My happy, dancing girl had enjoyed strawberry shortcake, then twirled with her dish on the way to get seconds. Coming out of a spin, she accidentally crashed her plate against the refrigerator, sending shards of glass and sticky red syrup everywhere. It was tough to close that column with my standard reminder: Until next month, remember to cherish the moments.

With more than six years of monthly columns and Jessie now a teenager, I think it’s the right time to end this column. So, whether you’re a long-time follower or a first-time reader, thank you for welcoming my family into your home. I hope our stories brightened your days. Special thanks to all the publishers and editors who printed them, and to my own team who helped polish my work before I sent it out – my wife, our daughter, and my former supervisor at the University of Florida, who served as the final quality-control check.

I’ll continue to write. In fact, Jessie and I have been working on a project during her tween years, a new co-authored column I’m anxious to reveal. Please look for it in the months to come.

But, for this, my final solo column, I wanted to leave readers with a memorable message, in addition to “cherish the moments, as before you know it, your baby has become a teenager.”

Each month, I complete the draft of my column, then give it to Jessie for her feedback. I think she’s going to be a college professor like her mother. She loves to break out her red pen and mark up my copy. Of course, she feels compelled to assign a grade.

If you think Jessie shows her father some leniency because he’s cared for all her wants and needs these past 13 years, you’d be mistaken. There’s no such thing as bonus points in Jessie’s grading. She’s tough! I’ve learned not to write anything about boys, because I’m penalized, at minimum, a full letter grade.

If you don’t believe me, here’s a sample of grades from the first drafts of a few recent columns, listed in ascending order: 27%, 50%, 62%, 69.97%, 82.5%, and 90.1253%. Don’t you just love the grading preciseness, down to the ten-thousandths spot. Another time, I scored 0%, but Jessie said if I incorporated all her suggested edits, she would bump my score to 100%. I ended up with a zero on that column.

If dealing with low scores was hard, I also had to have tough skin for Jessie’s comments. Here’s a small sample: “It is terrible!” “Write emotion!” “Bad read.” “Start over!” “You have to rewrite the last page.” “Blah, blah.” “1/2 of a column.” “You can do better☹.”

Writers need honest critique and I was sure to get it from Jessie, but she needs to work on her diplomacy skills. Though her grades and comments weren’t always what I would have liked (I prefer smiling emoticons to ones with frowns), they made me work harder to become a better writer, and many times I incorporated her useful edits. I’m proud to have kept my promise not to embarrass her.

But as I look back, these grades were only for my writing, not my parenting. I’m not going to ask Jessie to grade my first 13 years as her father. I’d like to think I’d get many A’s and numerous positive comments. At the same time, I made some mistakes, especially in the subjects of “Patience” and “Listening.”

Some subjects in life are more important than others. I’d like to ace them all, especially the parenting ones, even when my sneakers are sticking to the floor. With that said, I know, like all parents, I’m going to make mistakes. When I do, I must forgive myself. Involved parenting is challenging work.

So, as I conclude my final monthly column, I’ll remember Jessie’s words, “You can do better.” Not just when I’m sitting behind my laptop, though I’ll certainly give it my best, but, more importantly, as a father and role model for Jessie. I want to earn an A in my most important subject – parenting. And when I miss the mark, perhaps Jessie will offer extra credit or round up my score.

Until my new column, remember to cherish the moments.

Note: This column is written in memory of my mother who passed away on September 12, 2017. Thank you, Mom. You earned your A.

The Joy of Giving

“She just wouldn’t let me buy her anything.” Jessie’s grandmother, my favorite mother-in-law, expressed her frustration to me about their morning trip to an arts and crafts festival. Jessie had spent Friday night at her grandparents’ house. Early Saturday morning, Jessie’s great uncle and grandmother took her to the event. Many attendees made purchases. However, Jessie’s grandmother wasn’t one of them, much to her dismay, as she wanted to buy something for her 13-year-old granddaughter.

After the festival, Jessie’s grandmother dropped her off at the library, as I had reserved a table at the library’s book fair for Jessie and me to promote my book. Before leaving the library, Jessie’s grandmother checked out the other authors’ stands. She came back to our table and told us, “I met an author who wrote a book where the story took place near a city I grew up in.”

A few minutes after Jessie’s grandmother left, Jessie whispered, “We need to go buy that book for Grandmommy.” I might have thought of this eventually, but her young brain works faster than my older one. Prior to leaving the event, I purchased the book and had the author autograph it.

When we got back to Jessie’s grandparents’ house, Jessie walked in the front door with the book hidden behind her back. She couldn’t wait until Christmas. Her grandmother’s face lit up when Jessie handed it to her.

Gift giving! Yes, it’s that time of the year when shopping days are counting down. Soon, Jessie’s grandmother will ask, “What does Jessie want for Christmas?” It’s not easy to come up with a list. On the other end, my wife and I will be pondering what we can buy her parents. I’ll probably think, Why didn’t we save that book for Christmas?

But in this calmer, pre-Christmas season, I realize Jessie’s approach is the right one. The joy is in the giving, not the receiving. And why delay the gift? Give it today!

Now, obviously, most of us want a few presents to unwrap on Christmas morning. Not all gifts are tangible, though, and need tucked under a decorated tree.

Last week, I stopped at the dance studio to pick up Jessie from her ballet class. A few minutes early, I peeked through the window of the studio to catch a glimpse of the dance routine. My eyes widened when four high-school girls lifted Jessie and held her above their heads. They spun her outstretched body around in a circle, 6 or 7 feet above the floor. When they put her down a few seconds later, she gave a quick glance to the window to see if I saw what had just happened. Oh, I saw it alright.

My gift to Jessie was that I didn’t run into the studio, yelling, “Don’t drop my baby!” As the tallest girl in her elementary school cheering squad, Jessie was always the “lifter,” not the “liftee.” Now, dancing with older girls, being twirled in the air was an exciting first for her. I’m still learning as a father, but I’m pretty sure Jessie wouldn’t have approved if I had run in with outstretched arms ready to catch her.

At the same time, though, Jessie gave me a gift. After her quick glance, I noticed the corners of her mouth curve upward. She was glad I was there to see her flying. Okay, maybe she wasn’t flying, but let’s just say Dad’s more comfortable when Jessie is the “lifter.”

In the weeks ahead, tired, frantic shoppers will be out in full force. Yet it’s good to remember we can share gifts each day, and in many cases, without spending a dime. A smile, a hug, and a good deed go a long way. Not running in to embarrass one’s child is good, too. I think one of the most appreciated gifts, though, is sharing our time.

After the authors’ book fair, Jessie spent Saturday night at her grandparents’ house. She had a wonderful time working on a painting and re-upholstery project in the garage with her grandmother. Quality time spent with a loved one combines both giving and receiving.

So, when you’re searching for a parking space or standing in long lines at the store, remember that some of the best gifts are free and don’t require a trip to the mall or a website. And when the holidays end, don’t stop the gifts. We can experience the joy of giving every day.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments. Happy Holidays.

The Gift of Gratitude

A few days before the start of school this past August, I purchased a book bag for my 12-year-old daughter, Jessie. As I checked out, I told the cashier, “Well, I’m done with last year’s Christmas shopping.” He gave me a funny look and agreed I was a bit behind.

I neglected to tell the cashier we didn’t mail Christmas cards last year for the first time in our marriage. Life was hectic prior to December with the family’s move to a different state and my wife working long hours at her new job. Then a lump appeared near my wife’s left ear that required a biopsy and surgery. We never sent Christmas cards or bought Jessie a new book bag, which she had requested for Christmas. She managed fine for the rest of the school year using her tattered old one.

As another holiday season approaches, I wouldn’t be disappointed to have a lot of “routine” days, before, during, and after Thanksgiving and Christmas. One thing my family doesn’t need to stress about during Black Friday or the days leading up to Christmas is my gift. Jessie, unknowingly, gave me the best present this summer.

In July, Jessie and I took a 12-day trip, with stops in the two cities where we previously lived. Jessie had a blast attending her former dance school’s camp during the first week. We also had visits with friends and former neighbors in both cities. On the business side, we had two author events at libraries and a four-hour book signing at the mall. Did we set attendance records at the libraries? No. Did we sell out of books? Plenty left. Did we cherish the moments? Most definitely, even when Jessie accidentally kicked the power cord to the projector out of the electrical socket during the second library talk causing a brief delay.

Since Jessie wrote the book’s foreword, we do the book signings together and she autographs the books, too. Prior to publication, I wanted to find a “heavy hitter,” someone with a big following, to write the foreword. However, Jessie really wanted the job. One day I came home and my persistent girl had written the prettiest 150 words for the foreword. I looked no further.

Book signings with my daughter are special, no matter how many books we sell. We spend time talking with each other. Jessie enjoys collecting the money and giving change. But though we enjoyed the daddy-daughter book tour, that wasn’t the gift.

On the way home, we stopped at my “writer’s paradise” on St. Simons Island. Since 2011, I’ve attended the Southeastern Writers Association’s annual workshop each June. We had to drive out of the way to get there, but I wanted to show Jessie my favorite place. Her excitement showed through all the photos she took and the enthusiasm in her voice as she video-called her mom to share the picturesque sights.

Jessie commented, “I can see why you like this place so much.” However, her enthusiasm for my favorite writing spot wasn’t the gift I cherished most.

A few days after we arrived home, I sat at my computer and Jessie plopped in the nearby La-Z-Boy with a pen and her journal. She had fallen behind with her daily entries in which she captures the highlights of each day.

Without a prompt, Jessie looked at me and said, “Thank you.”

“For what?” I asked.

“For everything!”

I smiled and told her to thank her momma, too.

“I will.”

You’ve had a pretty good summer, haven’t you?” I asked with a smile.

“I’ve had a pretty good life,” she responded.

Those six words were the gift I cherished. Wow! I hope Jessie wrote that sentence in her journal. She had recognized her blessings, many more than a book bag could ever hold. Her grateful heart made the best gift not only for me, but for her as well.

Another holiday season is near. Will it be easy to find gifts for loved ones? Probably not. But I’m going to remember that gratitude is a wonderful gift to give ourselves and others. And it’s a gift we can share daily.

We’ll also be sure to send out Christmas cards, as reconnecting with family and friends we don’t see as often as we’d like and remembering the happy times we shared together, is one of the best parts of the holiday season.

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments.