Week Twenty-Four: "Photographic Memories"

I love looking through old photo albums.  We have some fantastic specimens from the mid-70’s.  Giant puffy volumes covered in padded fabric that may have been harvested from a couch in Burt Reynold’s bachelor pad.  They smell like an old librarian’s purse seasoned with a splash of Aqua Velva. Vintage.

But there’s something missing from the albums.  Namely, photos of my childhood birthday parties.

My first thought is to blame birth order.  My sister came first.  There are so many baby pictures of her, you can put them in a stack, hold them tightly, flick through them with your thumb, and relive the first three years of her life as if it were a home movie.

Next came my brother.  He was the first boy.  ‘Nuff said.

I was the baby.  Tucked away deep inside the album is a picture of me in a onesie, and one of my high school graduation.  Nothing in between.  With three kids, my parents were just too exhausted to advance the film on their old Vivitar camera.

Alright.  Maybe I’m exaggerating.  But not much. The real reason there aren’t any photos of my grade school birthday parties is because I had only one.  That’s right.  Just one official party where I sent real invitations.

I was four years old.  Even though it was long ago, my memories of this party are vivid.  I wore my favorite outfit – a tan jumpsuit/overalls combo that my mom made for me with a pattern she bought from Montgomery Ward’s.  It was covered in little cars.  I had a yellow cake with chocolate icing.  I blew out the giant candle shaped like a "4".  We played red-rover and I busted through the line.  I got to hold Amy Clifton’s hand during said Red Rover game.

Note to self:  wear more jumpsuits.


But I never had another birthday party.  Sure, I invited a friend or two over and we went swimming, or saw a movie, or blew a bucket of tokens at an arcade, but nothing official.  It’s not like my parents banned parties as “the devil’s handiwork” or anything.  In fact, my mom encouraged them.  Every year she would ask, and every year I would decline.

You want to know a secret?

I didn’t want to have another birthday party because I was afraid two things might happen.  I was afraid no one would show up, and I was afraid everyone would show up.  If no one showed up, that would tell me my friends weren’t really my friends.  And that’s not something I wanted to know.

And if everyone showed up?  Well, all eyes would be on me, and that’s just too much pressure.  I know it’s surprising to think that a guy who publishes a weekly blog about himself would shy away from attention. But it’s true.  A me-centered party seemed kinda’ overindulgent for someone who hasn’t done anything special beyond surviving the not-so-mean streets of a suburban Oklahoma City subdivision for another year.

And yes, I can hear you saying, “This guy needs a therapist.”

Fast forward 35 years.  In preparation for my 40th birthday, I told my wife I didn’t want anything special.  No parties.  I just wanted to relax with my family and have some cake and ice cream.  And, with our “Year Without A Purchase” in full swing, I knew that Gabby would have to work wonders to throw a major fiesta.  After all, she’s into decorations.  I kept my eyes on our supply of toilet paper Ziploc baggies just to make sure she wasn’t pilfering from the stash to make streamers and homemade balloons.

The morning of my birthday came early.  Call it neuroses, paranoia, or simply a healthy lifestyle, but I wanted to give myself the gift of accomplishment by running farther than I ever have before.  So I woke up at 6:00, strapped on my running shoes, and gave father time a one-finger wave as I walked out the door.  Gabby, face down in her pillow on her side of the bed, mustered a muffled “Happy Birthday” before I set out.


My Dannemarathon lasted just over an hour.  When I arrived home, I was greeted by the smell of Gabby’s famous chocolate chip pancakes and two very loud, overly-excited children.  According to my calculations, these two small people were burning the caloric equivalent of a surprise party of 40 full-grown adults.  And it was exactly what I wanted.

I peered over toward my seat at the table and spotted a couple of envelopes and a CD case.  Gabby instructed me to open one of them.   Inside the first envelope was a homemade card that read simply “The Grey Owl flies at midnight.”  Nothing more.  The reverse side was printed with the date, “August, 2013."  I smiled a mile wide, as I knew this to be the secret code of my college buddies signaling a get-together was imminent.  Some of these guys I haven’t seen in years, and a surprise trip to see them is one of the best gifts I could have received.


Next up was the CD case.  On the front was a beautiful photo of Gabby and the kids, each holding a guitar.  I asked where she had the picture done, and she told me that our friend Mari Wilkes, a professional photographer, was happy to donate her services to the cause.

Inside the case were three CD’s and a thick booklet.  As I leafed through the pages, I saw a list of songs, submitted by friends, that reminded them of me, along with a story of why the memory was stirred.  It’s over fifty tunes ranging from “Never Gonna’ Give You Up” by Rick Astley, submitted by my brother because “Scott and Rick Astley have never been seen in the same place at the same time” – to “Play That Funky Music White Boy”.

Submitted twice.  I’m not sure whether to be flattered or offended.

Every single song told a story, and conjured a wonderful memory.  When I put the CDs in the player, the first song on the playlist wasn’t a song at all.  Apparently, Gabby had coordinated with my family who own and work at World Music Nashville to commandeer their studio for an evening and capture my kids’ voices on tape.  First up is a priceless interview with Jake.  Gabby asks him all sorts of questions about me, and he answers in his tiny, toothlethhh voithhhh.

Next up brought me to my knees.  It was Audrey’s song to me.   Every night she asks me to sing her to sleep with “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”  As a gift to me, Gabby had her sing along to a version of the song recorded by a children’s choir from Newtown, Connecticut.  Instant waterworks.  In four weeks of CD ownership I have played it almost as much as my old Michael Jackson’s Thriller cassette.  It’s a treasure.

That night, a makeshift party erupted at the house.  My mom and dad stopped by.  And my sister and her family picked up my favorite cake from the grocery store.  I had made a giant pot of spaghetti sauce that afternoon, so we all shared a meal crammed in our tiny house.  I couldn’t help but think, “It doesn’t get much better.” Especially because we were scheduled to start our summer vacation the next day.  A drive to the Florida Gulf coast to meet up with my family (sister, brother and parents for a week of beach fun.  A perfect “experience gift.”

The next day, we filled the car with gas and enough highly processed snack foods to send the entire state of Montana into a diabetic coma.   I was looking forward to the drive to Florida for two reasons.  First, the kids are allowed to eat whatever they want and partake of our vehicle’s DVD system on long trips.  It’s a small Dannemiller family policy shift that creates harmony in the car.  Second, the snacks and entertainment lull the kids into a rare, trance-like state allowing Gabby and me to have uninterrupted adult conversation for hours on end.

I popped one of my new CD’s into the car stereo and kicked off the Gab-fest.

“So, what do you see yourself doing once Audrey starts kindergarten?  It’ll be the first time we’ve had both kids in school.”

I waited for a meaningful response.  Instead, I heard,


“Audrey.  Starting Kindergarten.  Are you excited?”

I glanced over at Gabby and caught her texting.

“Oh.  Yeah.  Sorry.  Just trying to see where your sister is.”

“Why does it matter?  We’re not in any big rush.  We’ll all get there today.”

“Yeah.  I know.”

But the texting continued for the whole drive.  We’d be talking and then Gabby would take a break to send more messages.

“Don’t you just want to listen to your CD?” she would ask.

Irritating.  I didn’t realize I was such a crappy conversationalist.

The drive lasted eight hours.  After that much time at the wheel, I was ready to sit on the couch and have a cold drink.  According to the GPS, we were less than a  minute away.  I started to look for the others’ cars, as Gabby had told me they arrived before us.

And that's when I saw her.  A woman.  The spitting image of Carla, an old friend from Austin whom I haven’t seen in years.  She was standing next to my dad on the porch of a beach house.  She looked scared.  I thought to myself, “What a coincidence!  That woman looks like Carla.”

Then I looked closer.  “Wait… I think it is Carla!  What a coincidence that she happens to be in the Florida at the same beach house at the same time as us?! “  I turned toward Gabby to say, “Can you believe it?!”, when I noticed she had a huge smile on her face and tears in her eyes.

I looked back at the porch and saw a flood of people come out of the house.  More old friends.  Gabby’s dear family.  Other kids.  Twenty-seven people in all.  All making a surprise trip to Florida to celebrate a week-long birthday party.

For me.

Gabby had been planning it for 18 months.  How everyone kept the secret, I’ll never know.

I was absolutely floored.  It took me several days for the surprise to sink in.  The week is a beautiful blur of time with people I love. Sharing meals.   Riding bikes.  Swimming.  Playing in the sand with nieces, nephews and other kids.  An honest-to-goodness heart-to-heart talk with my old pal David.  Sitting on the porch drinking beer, telling stories for hours on end with family and friends, old and new.


* my huge, crazy family


*Love them Taylors!  David and Carla.  And no, I'm not pressing charges.


*Me and my wonderful wife.  I'm almost as tan as her.  Almost.


* The whole Brand clan


* Boys memories being made


* The big kids


* Jen and John on the beach

It’s the best gift I could have received.  Far greater than anything item Gabby could have purchased from a store.

And the best part?

I have photographic proof.  My very own, official birthday party.  With real invitations.  Vivid pictures on paper and in my memory.  Just perfect for an album.

And the only thing missing is the Aqua Velva.

Week Sixteen: "Fishing for Ice Cream"

Last week, I shared the story of Gabby’s girl’s weekend and my ridiculous attempt to keep everything in order without my wife around.  You may have noticed that the kids were scarcely mentioned in the post.  This was intentional, as I was afraid to share what I had done with them in the event that anyone at Child Protective Services reads the blog.

It was my job to keep the kids occupied so Gabby and her friends could enjoy as much uninterrupted time as possible.  My first thought was to build them a “fort” out of clothespins, blankets and a puppy crate and fill it full of fruit snacks and ring pops.  This way, I could (humanely) sequester them for a couple of days under the guise they were having fun.  Unfortunately, I could never get Jake to consistently pee on the newspaper, so this plan was a bust.

My second idea was to loan them out to the Nashville Police department.  They often need loud noise makers to flush out kidnappers and other ne’er-do-wells from their bunkers.  Jake and Audrey both did well in their first audition, but were ousted in the final round for asking too many irrelevant questions. 

I was quickly running out of options. Our Year Without A Purchase rules state that I could not buy any trinkets to keep my children entertained.  This means I would have to rely on my own ingenuity and items already in my possession to do the job.  

Our first trip away from the house was a disaster. I drove around aimlessly waiting for fun to smack us upside the head.  And, due to my horrible planning skills, I left any of our fun possessions back at the house.  I tried to improvise with what was on hand, but a five-year-old girl can only play with jumper cables and car jacks so many times before the novelty begins to wear off and whining begins.

We went to a couple of parks and had fun playing on the playgrounds, but two hours later, the whining started again.  I called the Nashville Police and put the kids on speakerphone, hoping they would reconsider.  They just hung up on me.  Then, a revelation.

Commence “Operation Frozen Treat”

Our rules do include a provision to purchase food, so I whipped the car into the Sonic drive-in and ordered a menagerie of frozen delights.  A slushee for Jake, a caramel sundae for Audrey, and a Butterfinger Blast for yours truly.  My research revealed that the frozen cream and sugar act as a mild sedative, transforming loud Banshee screams into a perfectly acceptable conversational tone.


* ice cream: the miracle drug

I know the parenting mantra.  Ice cream should be reserved for special times.  Important, momentous occasions.  So, I confess that we had ice cream four times in a 48-hour period.  I’m not proud of it, but it’s amazing the things I learned about my kids when they were chatting and stuffing their faces with crap-tacular goodness. Case in point:   I learned (upon visiting a Sonic that backs to a cemetery) that Audrey would like to be buried in a heart-shaped coffin with a headstone shaped like a horse.  And Jake only wants to be cremated if it doesn’t hurt.  Audrey assures him it’s painless, because when you die your skin falls off.  And skin is the part that feels hurt.  So they only burn your bones.  But when you go to heaven God gives you new bones and new skin, too, unless you want to use your old skin you brought from Earth.

My research also suggests ice cream may be a hallucinogen.

On Saturday evening, as my wife and her friends were enjoying a free hotel night purchased with my frequent traveler loyalty points, the kids and I shared ice cream sandwiches and played board games.   It was a delightful time.  They were enjoying each other’s company.  No one was crying.  Even if they lost.  There were patches of silence while the kids sucked on their fingertips trying to lick away the chocolate sandwich glue.

Finishing off her pinkie, Audrey cut through the silence and blurted out,  “Let’s go fishing, Daddy!”

“Honey, it’s 7:00pm.  It’s almost bedtime.”

“But fish don’t sleep.”

“Not fish bedtime.  Your bedtime.”

“Can we go tomorrow?”

I thought about this.  Fishing does sound more interesting than playing in the park.  But the last time I took the kids fishing, we all got sunburned, I got a hook stuck in my shoulder,  one pole ended up in the pond, and all of us were crying.  And this was just the first half-hour.  What’s more, we only have one tiny fishing pole in working condition.  The other has a rod that’s been snapped in half and a reel that needs some major re-engineering.  We call her “The Widow Maker.”


* the "Widow Maker" and Lightning McQueen

“Sure!”  I answered.  “Let’s go fishing!”

“But we only have one pole!” Jake can always kill a buzz.

“That’s OK.  I can work on the other one.”

“Awwwwww!  Can we buy a pole for me?” Audrey asked, remembering that hers was the one still soaking in the pond at Bowie Park. 

Obviously, she doesn’t read the blog.

“Not this time.  We’ll share.”

The next day after church, I packed up the kids, our two shoddy poles, and drove to the Little Harpeth River. Our good friend, Dwayne Smith, even gave us some left over night crawlers from his own recent expedition.  We looked for a spot to fish, walking past a group of teenage girls swimming in the frigid water.  We walked past a somewhat creepy guy standing watch over the swimming girls and playing fetch with his two rambunctious dogs.  Finally, we found an open spot.

The kids and I spent considerable time wading in the shallows of the river.  With all of the bugs and rocks to check out, Audrey quickly forgot she didn’t have a fishing pole.   We were all skipping rocks and enjoying a new experience.    I then moved on to fiddling with my broken reel and casting an occasional line.  I coaxed both kids to fish for the better part of an hour.  The current was moving pretty fast, so every cast made it look like the bobber was being dragged under by Jaws himself. We caught nothing, but the kids loved it. They reeled it in with gusto every time, excited at the possibility of landing Nemo.

Audrey  took a break from fishing and went back to skipping rocks.  In an attempt to find the perfect stone, she slipped, fell into the river up to her shoulders and came out shivering.  By this time, we were all soaked and chilled.

Standing next to me, Audrey politely asked, “Can we go back to the car and warm up, Daddy?”

Recalling our Bowie Park fishing expedition, I thought it best to quit while we were ahead.

“Sure.  Let’s go.”

I looked down river.  Our tackle box, clothes and bait were about twenty paces away over some jagged stones.  Jake was standing very near all of the gear.  The bank was steep, but there were some branches and rocks immediately to my right which looked easy for Audrey to climb.

“Here honey.  Let me help you up.”

I pushed Audrey’s tiny hiney up the eight foot incline.  She clawed her way to the top and looked down at me.

“Alright Audrey.  Stay right there.  I’m going to walk down and get Jake and we’ll meet you up top.”

“OK Daddy.”

I made my way to Jake and all of our gear.  Two minutes, tops.  He was surprisingly compliant.  He immediately reeled in his empty hook, and I gathered all of our things.  We meandered up the steep bank and came to the grassy clearing.

“OK Audrey, let’s go.”


I looked to my right, twenty paces, expecting to see Audrey.  She wasn’t there.

I looked up and saw a kid’s birthday party going full swing at the picnic pavilion roughly 100 yards away.  There were bouncy castles and balloons all over the place.  I scanned the crowd for a tiny, wet girl in a white flowered bathing suit.  


I looked all around me calling her name as loud as I could.  I expected to hear her call back, “Right here, Daddy!”

But her call never came.  Instead, my voice got louder and louder.  I paced along the path beside the river.  My tone more anxious.  I looked at Jake and it was obvious he was scared.  His smile had transformed into a look of pint-sized panic.

“Where is she, Daddy?”  I could see tears forming. 

Then I thought of the fast-moving current and the steep bank.  What if she fell down the bank after I turned my head?  What if she waded back into the water and slipped?  She doesn’t swim!

I ran to the river bank and looked down.  I saw no signs of her.  But what if she got trapped under the water?  Under a rock?  She wouldn’t be on the surface!  I ran along the bank yelling her name.  I looked for a pale object under the current.  Parents at the birthday party were looking up now, sensing something was terribly out of balance. 

Jake stood motionless.  Whimpering.

I was about to dive into the water when my thoughts drifted to the creepy guy with the cute dogs.  Audrey loves animals.  I thought of every stranger danger cliché in the book.  Is this how it ends?  Dear God, no.  If I dive into the water, I am wasting precious seconds when someone could be walking off with my child.  If I go in search of her, I am wasting precious seconds when my daughter could be trapped under water. 


I started running toward the birthday party.  I was about to yell, “Has anyone seen a little girl in a white swimsuit?!  Did you see where she went?!” I looked to my left and saw a girl running down the path toward me.  One hundred fifty yards away.  Her awkward, distracted, beautiful gait telling me my fears were unwarranted.  I dropped to my knees, threw my head back, and covered my face.  Didn’t want Jake to see the tears of relief that were coming.  It was only thirty seconds.

But it felt like a lifetime.

When she finally reached me, I scolded her with a giant bear hug.

“Where did you go?  I was so worried we had lost you?  I told you to stay right here!”

“I wanted to go back and pet the puppies.”

“I’m sure you did, honey.  But you didn’t tell me where you were going.  I thought I had lost you.  Worse yet, I thought you might have fallen in the water and drowned.”

Her eyes got big.  She said nothing.  She just looked at me and saw the relief in my face and knew. 

We walked back to the car in silence.  Halfway there, she grabbed onto my leg with both arms.  I walked with a happy limp the rest of the way.  When all the gear had been packed into the trunk and everyone was strapped into their seats, I heard Jake call out from the back seat.

“Can we have some ice cream when we get home, Daddy?”

The mantra plays in my mind again.  Ice cream is reserved for special times.  Important, momentous occasions.

And none is as special as this.

Because, unlike my brief, panicked moments with Audrey that stretched into forever, in our day-to-day lives time passes us like a raging river.  We feel like we have a lifetime to spend with those we love, but soon it will feel like only thirty seconds.  Life is precious gift of God that I often waste on worthless worry and the pursuit of perfection.  . 

So here's my prayer today.  Let there be many moments in life that sound the alarm.  A wake up call that stirs my soul.  Because I'm tired of sleepwalking through the simple pleasures that make life worth living. 

Like one more scoop of ice cream.

Week Nine: "The Worst Parenting Advice You'll Ever Receive"

Hey parents out there.

Yeah.  I’m talking to you.  The ones who said you would never let your kids eat McDonald’s in the back seat.  Or listen to kid music.  Or do that cliché’ discipline tactic where you yell, “I’m going to count to three and then I’m going to (insert horrible, irrational, overblown punishment here).”

Well, stop scrubbing that ketchup stain on the upholstery, mute “The Wheels on the Bus,” and shut you’re your big yapper.  Because I have something to say and you’d better listen up.

I’m serious.

Turn the music off.

Now.  Don’t make me say it again.  I’m going to count to three, and it better be off or you’ll never have candy ever again.  For the rest of your life.  Never.  I don’t care if the whole world blows up and the only food left is candy. You’re not eating it. You hear me?

One…  two…

OK.  That’s better.  Now that I have your attention, I’m gonna’ lay some wisdom down on you and not even charge you for it.  Here goes.

Stop protecting your kids. 

You heard it right.  Stop. Protecting. Your. Kids.

Before I start sounding like an overbearing know-it-all, please realize that I am actually talking to myself.  Any resemblance to your own neurotic parenting style is purely coincidental.

This past week brought a perfect storm of challenges to the Year Without A Purchase.  All of them child-induced.  And all had us questioning whether this whole ordeal is making us bad parents. 

For starters, Jake’s tennis shoes are on life support.  The soles are ripping off, and the side is developing a gaping hole, as if my son has the feet of an 87-year-old man with huge bunions and an extra pinkie toe protruding out. 


He asked, “Can I get some new shoes after school today, daddy?”

I replied, “But son, you HAVE other shoes.  The black ones.”

“But I don’t like those shoes.”

“You don’t have to like ‘em.  The job of shoes is to protect your feet.  These are shoes.”

 “But they aren’t the right shoes.  They are summer shoes.”

“Summer is coming fast.”

“Not until June.  June 21st.  You said so.”

Even though my son remembered the correct date of the summer solstice like he was channeling Rainman, we did not reward him with a new pair of sneakers.

Besides the shoes, the zippers on both his backpack and lunch box broke this week.  The school requires an insulated pack so kids don’t eat room-temperature turkey sandwiches and turn the place into a salmonella factory.  His is barely functional.   He wants to leave it half-zipped until it finally falls apart.  Luckily, we have another one he can use.  The problem?  It’s a lovely paisley-floral print.

I hope he’s ready to set some new first grade fashion trends.

As for the backpack, it’s a goner.  But we have a backup.  Gabby got it at a trade show over twenty years ago.  How do we know the exact age of the pack, you ask?  Because it has the date written right on it.  1989.  I stuffed it full of his school gear and laid it in the hallway.


He asked,“What’s this?”

“It’s your new backpack, son.”

"But I didn’t pick it.”

“I know.  Mom did.”

He pointed to the clover-like graphic between the words "Yak-Pak" and asked, "What's this funny shape?"

"I don't know."

After twenty questions about the coolness of the pack and the definition of the word “new”, he lost interest in arguing the point and changed the subject.

But the topper this weekend was the March Madness basketball tournament.  No, not the one that generates squillions of dollars of revenue and makes Vegas oddsmakers giddy.  We’re talking about the no-holds-barred basketball slug-fest at Montessori Academy in Nashville.  The one pitting first-grader against first-grader to establish worldwide bragging rights for generations to come.  NBA scouts in attendance.    Corporate sponsorship deals going down in the hallways.

Or so you might think if you saw me yelling like an idiot in the stands.


As a fun way to celebrate the end-of-season tournament, the other kids’ parents had purchased these really cool red camouflage Air Jordan socks for their players.  Gabby and I struggled with the decision.  Do we get some for our kid?  Sure, we have $13.  We don’t want him to feel left out.  But it’s not part of the standard uniform. 

So Jake wore white.  The only one. 

We carried around some heavy guilt over these decisions.  I asked myself, “Is this cruel?  Have we gone overboard?”  I didn’t respond to either question.  I’m not sure I want to know the answer.

Because we’ve all lived through childhood and know how cruel kids can be.  We’ve all shed tears after taunts, left feeling inadequate.  You didn’t have the latest shoes or the latest style.  You looked different.  Acted different.  Laughed different.

And it sucked big time.  We all wear the scars.

So the question is, if you have the ability to buy a few things and protect your child from this heartache and choose not to, are you the one doing the scarring? 

The answer is, “No.”

Stop.  Protecting.  Your.  Kids.

By protecting our kids in this way, we only help perpetuate the idea that what you own is a measure of who you are.  We cover them up with so much shiny junk that it’s virtually impossible to see the person inside. 

And we drown out the God-voice inside each and every one of them.  The voice that says I’m uniquely and beautifully made.  The voice that doesn’t hear the put-downs and taunts because it’s too busy shouting,

“I love you”

“I made you.”

“You’re more than enough.”

When we protect our kids in this way, we deprive them of disappointment.   Disappointment that forges faith in something bigger than today.  Bigger than the present or the presents.  A resolve that bubbles up from deep within, making us stronger day-by-challenging day.

Because Jake got used to his summer shoes.   His friend Yusuf said his backpack looked like a “leprechaun bag,” but went on playing with him anyway.  And by the time the next basketball game rolled around, stubborn stains, stinky kids and laundry schedules had all the other players in mis-matched pairs once again. 

I realize that we may be simply justifying our own lunacy.  Rationalizing away the guilt of watching our kids struggle.  

Or maybe…

Just maybe…

We’re taking their lives out of our own hands and placing them in God’s. 

Back where they belong.

Week Eight: "The Better Half"

Not buying stuff forces you to focus on other things.  For a moment there, I was focusing on stuffing my face with as much junk food as it would hold.  A single step on the YMCA scale told me that my energy was misplaced.  Perhaps I could find it in the same place I left my self-restraint. Time to refocus on the important things.

Last week, Gabby and I vowed to eat dinner as early as possible, so we would have some quality with the tiny people in our house before we finally put them in their cages to bed for the night. After all, this year is about building connections, and we should start with those closest to us.

So last week we sat on the couch as a family every night and read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe cover-to-cover.   You see, we’re still keeping our kids in the dark about this whole Year Without A Purchase thing.  So Jake and Audrey don’t know they’re “deprived” yet (a minor miracle), but the Scholastic Book Fair at school might blow this whole thing wide open.  We hoped a little C.S. Lewis would be enough of a draw to make them forget about any other literary works they might desire.


* a typical storytime, minus Gabby

It worked!  Each night, Gabby would chide me when I forgot to use my lion voice, the kids would beg for “just one more chapter”, and we would torture them with a cliffhanger.  When we finally finished, we got to discuss the deeper meaning of the book.  It’s amazing the concepts a young mind can absorb.

I upped the ante on “togetherness” the very next day when I picked Jake up from school.  I had to run some errands, and used them as an excuse for us to spend some one-on-one time with him, just chatting.  He independently strapped himself into the car seat.  No help needed.  Another sign that we are one step closer to the days when I will be a social anchor around his neck, holding him back from fun with his friends.

But innocence remains.  We jumped out of the car and he grabbed my hand as we walked into the post office.  I smiled.


* enjoying it while it lasts

Our six-year-old sports statistician was grilling me about Kevin Durant’s shoe size when we were quickly interrupted.

“Hey buddy, you got a second?”

I looked down and saw a man sitting on the curb.  His eyes were tired, like half-drawn mini blinds.  A woman sat beside him with her head in her hands.  I got that familiar feeling.  A body split in two.  One half wanting to hear the man’s story, and the other wishing I had chosen the other entrance.

The sliding doors opened, but I didn’t slide through.  My other half wanted to, but my better half was attached to a six-year-old compassionate anchor who knows the meaning of the word “ignored.”

Quality time.

I turned toward the couple, “Sure. What’s up?”

The woman started coughing into her lap, deferring to the man.  He explained, “My wife and I sell papers.”  He gestured to the lanyard around his neck, displaying a badge that says he works for “The Contributor”, Nashville’s homeless newspaper.  “We’ve been really sick, so this morning we went to the clinic.  The doctor says we both have pneumonia.  By the time we got back, there were no more papers for us to sell, and we don’t have enough money for rent.  Can you help us out?”

I let go of my anchor, but stayed in place.  Because my anchor knows that I have money in my wallet.  And I would much rather my better half explain to him that we should help people no matter the circumstance, rather than have the other half explain the meaning of the word “cynical.”

My better half reached into my wallet and pulled out the only bill there, while the other half wished that ATM’s spit out cash in much smaller denominations.

I said, “God Bless” as I handed him the bill.  He thanked us profusely, and I quickly blurted, “No problem.”  Unable to fully accept the gratitude knowing the turmoil I felt inside.

Jake and I talked a bit about the couple on the way home.  Always the fact-finder, his questions were mostly about details.  “What’s pneumonia?” and “What’s rent?”  I answered with the best Webster’s dictionary response I could, happy to be having a good conversation with him.

That night at dinner, as we rounded the table with our Thorns and Roses discussion, Jake chimed in.

“My turn!”

“OK buddy, what do you want to start with?”

“A thorn.”

“So what’s your thorn for today?”

“We didn’t get to go out at recess because it was raining.”

“And what’s your rose?”

“We got to help people today.  They needed money to pay for their house and we gave it to them.”

Quality time.  Well worth the effort.  An opportunity to reconnect.  Because they say “integrity” is what you do when no one else is watching.  I say “teaching” is what you do when your kids are close at hand.

And my other half is doing the learning.