The Birthday Princess

ImageToday is Ella’s seventh birthday, and we’ve been celebrating since this morning. She’s enjoyed some special treats throughout the day, and expects even more this weekend at her birthday party. I guess you could say we spoil her.

But we don’t see it that way.

We’re celebrating her life, which is something we don’t take for granted. Believe me when I tell you that there’s nothing on this earth that makes my heart swell like her slipping her hand into mine as we walk. Sure, the hand that’s reaching out for me has gotten bigger than I’d like to admit, and yeah, my heart breaks to think that I might only have a few more years of such unfettered, un-self-conscious love to enjoy, but it’s still overwhelming to be loved so innocently.


Sometimes when I look at her, I find it hard to remember what she was like as an infant. She’s so much more herself now that’s she’s older that those early months/years seem a blur. To watch her float around the house, dancing to music only she can hear, making up words to songs that only she understands, is to watch my daughter without a filter. To see her as she really is, all the way down to her soul.

When she sits down to draw a picture now, a clear figure emerges – complete with perspective, shading, detail – and fits within a larger narrative picture. She tells you the whole story when she shows it to you, and even gives you a hint of character voices. It’s impressive.

She still sleeps like a wild animal. She’s all over the bed, arms and legs akimbo beneath the covers, breathing so deeply you would think her near comatose. Trying to wake her up on a school day is sometimes like arguing on the internet: pointless and not very productive. Then, on days when she doesn’t need to sleep late, she’s up by 6:20 and racing through the house like a deranged cat.

Talking to her has become an adventure. It’s a combination of her high-level reading skills, ever-listening ear, and decidedly animated friends that produces the first grade equivalent of a Robin Williams stand up, which is to say that she’s hysterical and full of non-sequiturs. What’s really funny is when she throws in an inflection that quite obviously came from someone else – an adult, one of her school friends, her mother – and it sounds like an entirely different person but still fully Ella. And the best part is, she doesn’t even realize she’s doing it.


She looked at me this morning in the car. We were waiting for her bus to arrive, and she had this funny expression, a mix between sheer joy and hopeless confusion. Finally she looked at me, eyebrow raised and said, “You know I’m only three years away from ten, don’t you? Today I’m seven, then eight, nine, ten. I’ll be practically grown up. And then I’ll be a teenager. You can handle that, right?”

I looked at her and lied. “Sure I can handle that.”

But my heart knew it couldn’t. As much joy as there is in watching my child grow up, I can’t help but feel the tinge of sadness that comes as she passes ever farther away from the little girl she once was. I know I still have a lot more time with her before she starts hating my guts, but the weight of those days, the preciousness of them, makes me wish they could linger a bit.

And then she drops something on the floor, or accidentally spills grape juice on the freshly cleaned carpet and I wonder, “How long ’til college?”


The birthday princess is growing up. The world is slowly becoming hers; I find that instead of her encountering things through my eyes or Rachel’s eyes, she’s seeing things through her own eyes more and more. And it’s a fascinating world to view, even if it sometimes gets a bit myopic (“When can I have a snack again? You said fifteen minutes fifteen minutes ago. It’s been fifteen minutes. So I can have a snack now, right? Because it’s been fifteen minutes. It has. Really. Why is your eyeball suddenly bleeding, daddy?”). Here’s to enjoying the ride through her childhood, to infinity and beyond.

Happy birthday, Princess Ella! Your mommy and daddy love you very much.

Birth of a Saleswoman

It's fundraising time!

I’ve not posted on the exploits of Ella in good while, so I thought I share her latest adventure with you. As you might recall, she started Kindergarten this year, and so far she’s loved every minute.

At least, I think she has. I wouldn’t know – she won’t talk about school. It’s like she’s one of the kids from Sleepers. Or, better yet, like she’s been through R2I training(resistance to interrogation) led by former Spetsnaz commanders. I ask her how her day went, and all I get is name, rank, and favorite cereal flavor.

But last week things changed. She came home with a special note in her folder: Fund Raiser (sic).

Now, I personally like what her school does – instead of selling useless items like chocolate, wrapping paper, and other assorted cheap knick-knacks, Trip Elementary sells coupon cards that get you discounts at local retailers. For $20.00 you get over $100.00 in discounts that can be used over and over again through the course of a year. It’s a pretty snazzy little deal.

But liking the fundraiser and actually liking the fund raising are two separate things.

I hated fundraisers when I was a kid. I was shy, a bit unsure of myself, and the thought of going door-to-door and soliciting potential rejection was about as pleasant as the thought of being dragged naked through the girl’s locker room during gym. Even in elementary school I recognized the futility of trying to sell people crap they don’t need or want at prices they weren’t willing to pay; so when other kids were somehow able to con people into buying hundreds, and in some cases, thousands, of dollars of that dreck, I felt a strange sense of shame – as well as a fair certainty who some of my future political representatives would be.

Thus, when I saw the Fund Raiser packet, I began preparing my speech on dealing with life’s disappointments, because I knew that when the first person rejected her, she would fall to pieces like an Congressional budget.

Ella, however, was completely excited for the opportunity to sell stuff, another reminder that she only gets half of her genes from me. We haven’t had the chance to do some door-to-door schlepping before tonight, so when I came home from work, Ella met me at the door, her little fundraiser cards in her hands.

“Please, daddy,” she begged, “can we go outside and give these cards away?”

I agreed, with the stipulations that we would be selling the cards for money, not giving them away, and that we would head out after dinner, a concept which bugged her to no end.

“Why can’t we just go out now, daddy? The people’s houses are there.”

“Yes,” I replied, “but just because the houses are there, it doesn’t mean the people are. If we wait until after dinner, we’ll have a better chance of catching people at home.”

“But we’re home now,” she countered.

“Yes we are. But we’re strange.”

Ella agreed to postpone our inaugural sales jaunt until after dinner, and I was glad; personally, I was terrified that she would get rejected right off the bat, and I wasn’t sure how either of us would handle it. Because of our history, we’ve been very cautious with Ella; I won’t say we’ve been overprotective because we actually give her a fair amount of liberty to try and fail at things on her own. But we, and by we I mean me, have always been a little leery of how people might treat our daughter. The unknown in so much of human interaction scares me, because it means my little girl might get hurt.

It’s a silly fear, I suppose, but it’s one of my biggest when it comes to my daughter making her way in the big, bad world.

I tried to prepare Ella for the eventuality. “You know that not everyone is going to buy a card from you, right?”

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because not everyone will have the money.”


“And some people just won’t want one of the cards.”


“And you know that, just because someone tells you ‘no’, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you.”


“And it’s okay to be disappointed if you don’t sell any cards, but you don’t need to feel like something’s wrong with you.”

“Daddy, quit being weird.”

So, with that stunning sales pep talk out of the way, we headed out the door. Jon decided to join us, so both of them hopped on their bicycles (which sucked for me because a) Jon can’t really ride his; he requires me to push him in order to make the bike go and b) Ella can ride her bike really well and has no problems just taking off and leaving me in her wake) and we hit the first house.

I made Ella practice her sales pitch during dinner. I didn’t tell her what to say; instead, i asked what she thought she should say.

“I’m selling cards because I want to see a BMX show” was her first pitch. It turns out, kids who sell at least five cards get to see a special BMX exhibition at her school.

I told her that people might not find that a compelling reason to buy.

“Okay, then how ’bout, ‘This is for my school. We need money.'”

What can I say? She’s her mother’s daughter.

We settled on, “Hi! My name’s Ella, and I’m selling these cards to raise money for my school.”

I won’t bore you with the details of each and every stop, but I will tell you that my daughter, my Kindergarten princess, rode up to each and every house without me having to prompt her, parked her bike in front of each door, rang every doorbell and handled every pitch ON HER OWN. The only time she looked for me was when she forgot the price, or when someone asked her how the cards worked.

Otherwise, my kid went at this all by herself. And she sold cards at the first three houses she went to.

“This is easy!” she chirped after her third sale. “Let’s get more people’s money!”

Sadly those first three houses were the only ones she sold to. The other five houses we hit were like a Newt Gingrich Gay Pride Parade – no one there. Ella wanted to keep going; I finally shut her down and said it was time for her bath.

Eight houses, three sales, one very grown up daughter. I didn’t feel compelled to cry, but I did marvel at her independence and just how much Kindergarten has given her a confidence boost. I guess when you realize that you can learn to read, or do simple math, or color inside the lines, the world seems your oyster.

Of course, part of her success is attributed to the fact that she is one very articulate, and very cute, kid. But who cares? I watched my daughter take on the world, and it felt pretty darn good. Sure, there’ll be someone who eventually tells her ‘no’ but I’m not really worried about it. Somehow, I don’t think there will be that many.

After all – you’d have to practically be dead to say ‘no’ to a face like this:

So Tiny, So Strong

One of the many ways we passed the time before surgery...

Ella’s surgery went surprisingly well today. She was in and out of the operating room in under 20 minutes, and while she did sleep in post-op for about an hour and a half, she exhibited no real signs of pain. She’s eaten like a horse, however, and we should have seen it coming. All morning long the child kept asking, “Now, when am I going to get breakfast again?”

So it should come as no surprise that when the doctor gave her the medical “all clear” to eat whatever she felt like once she got home, Ella took note – and then took to eating. Herewith, a complete list of her afternoon ingestion, beginning from her time in the post-op room:

– 2 popsicles (orange and pink)

– Jell-O (strawberry)

– Skittles (the entire rainbow)

– pot roast (with gravy)

– potatoes (with gravy)

– carrots

– lima beans

– corn

– half a can of chicken noodle soup (her brother ate the other half)

– a roll

– 2 milkshakes (a homemade chocolate and a Zaxby’s vanilla)

Joey Chestnut wishes he had her game. Kid’s intake was immense.

All of this to say, my little girl isn’t so little as I imagine her to be. She faced today’s entire ordeal with a smile on her face, and only once did she even seem the slightest bit afraid. We watched Tangled, colored, shot baskets (on a kid-sized goal), played with an Etch-a-Sketch (“Cool! Just like in Toy Story!”), and in general just passed the time before surgery with confidence and ease. It helped me, as a matter of fact, to be involved with her, and I think she knew that.

There are those moments when you realize that the kid you see is a mirage; that you look at your child through a refracted lens, the light bending in such a way to show you a small baby or a cute little toddler just learning to navigate the big bad world and utterly dependent upon you to guide and hold them, to be their foundation. I still see Ella as the curious two year-old who loves to smear chocolate on her face, or as the suddenly verbose three year-old who can’t wait to tell me the latest word she’s learned.

I’m not hallucinating, mind you – I see her physically changing into a school-aged kid just like everyone else, but when she smiles a certain way, or turns her head just so, I still see that little baby I so loved and longed for, the one that showed me the world wasn’t unnecessarily cruel and heartless. I still see the tiny infant who would sigh in my arms as I rocked and sang to her every night before laying her into her crib and staring at her, first to make sure she was still breathing, then just to marvel at her existence. She’s all legs now, but when she runs on her toes I still remember the first steps she took, her little body bouncing uncertainly into the wide open spaces of our living room, her face lit up with the wonder of her own self.

I saw past my mirage today and saw the reality of my daughter: a tough, intelligent, creative girl who will have no problem with school or the bus or anything else that life throws at her. I saw her spirit, her strength, and not for the last time I marveled at the wonder of someone so essentially beautiful and pure and good being given to me as a trust.

This entire day has come and gone without my shedding a single tear, until now. To suddenly just see my daughter for who she is – who she will become – is a gift that demands tears. And I willingly give them as payment.

My Ella, so tiny, so strong, is a big girl now. Part of my heart, that sub-basement level that will always see her as nothing more than the blond bundle of joy that healed me when she drew first breath, is breaking.

The rest is stronger because she is, too.

For Her Own Good…I Hope

Tomorrow Ella will have an elective adenoidectomy. I may have to watch "Toddlers and Tiaras" to rebuild my parenting self-esteem.

Tomorrow morning, my daughter Ella will undergo a relatively simple surgical procedure to have her adenoids taken out. Apparently, they are just this side of Congress in terms of causing problems for people like my daughter. The doctor says the procedure will take only a few minutes at the most, will leave a relatively short recovery time, and should make my daughter’s quality of life increase about 200%.

But they all say that, don’t they?

I’ve heard from many people that the surgery is nothing.

“I was out and about that same afternoon with my kid. She wanted to eat at McDonald’s.”

“Oh, we were shopping for shoes less than an hour after surgery. It was nothing.”

“Dude, seven minutes after we were out of recovery, my kid felt so great she started singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and was signed to a recording contract by an A&R guy who just happened to be at the doctor’s to have his inner ear checked. Best day our lives. Plus, her album drops on October 15th. We’ve got Snoop-Dog!”

OK – that last one might be an exaggeration. But still, the general consensus is Why freak out, dude? Your kid will be fine.

In my head, I know this. The surgery is so simple the doctors can do it in their sleep. The recovery is so easy, I’ll enjoy eating all of the leftover Jell-O. I know this because I’ve read the literature, heard the experts, and heard it again from friends and family.

But in my heart?

I’m freaking out. Part of it comes from our past. We’re the 1-percenters you always hear about but never really think anything of. You know, when the doc is giving you the boilerplate spiel about how “only 1% of all patients suffer from any kind of severe setbacks…” or “less than 1% of people who have anesthesia swell up like fugu and see purple spots.” If you’ve ever heard a doctor give you the legal CYB, you know what I’m talking about.

Well, that’s us. If anyone is going to sprout goat horns and trot across the surgical center because of some minute adverse reaction to anesthesia, it’ll be my kid. If one surgery in a thousand has some grave operator error, where the doc somehow accidentally cauterizes the patient’s sinuses shut, it’ll be us. That’s just the way it’s been in our history, medically speaking.

So you can see why I’m a little on edge.

In the end, we’ll get up, drink a buttload of coffee and drive out to Scottish Rite tomorrow, and everything will go fine. Ella will have no problems with the intubation, there’ll be no adverse effects from the anesthesia, she’ll have no bleeding or other abnormal response to the surgery, and I’ll move on to my next nervous breakdown, schedule for the same day she starts kindergarten.

But tonight, I’m sitting here, my heart pounding in my chest, worried that I’ve chosen something I think is for her own good but can’t guarantee. I’m hoping against hope that this brings relief instead of trauma, healing instead of hurting, and a better future instead of one that seems shrouded in clouds right now. It’s a battle of faith: will I or will I not trust God with the life of my daughter?

It’s gonna be a long night.


“I’m Just a Genius.”

No, I’m not talking about me.

That’s my daughter, speaking of herself. We were in the car, driving to visit my grandfather, when Ella made an astute observation about something. Rachel and I both raised our eyebrows and Rachel turned to Ella.

“And just where did you learn that?” she asked.

“I dunno,” Ella said. “I’m just a genius.”

I almost ran off the road. Rachel stifled a laugh.

“Genius, huh?” I said, looking at Ella in the rearview mirror. She looked like the cat that ate the canary.

“Well, yeah. I’m a genius. People who are really smart call themselves genius, and I’m really smart.”

“Yes you are, Ella,” Rachel agreed, breaking into a smile. “You’re a smart little girl.”

“I know,” Ella said. “I’m a genius because I know things a lot.”

She starts Kindergarten in less than two weeks. The rest of her class had better check themselves. And her teacher had better start taking Valium…