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:

Life Lesson’s From Ella’s Second Day of School

Sometimes, this is what life just feels like...

Yesterday, Ella’s first day of school, was an amazing success. Not only did she love her time in the classroom, I managed to get through the day without tears (though apparently several people who read my blog were not so fortunate). So it was when we went to bed last night, Ella declared, “I’m ready to do it again!”

Then came the morning.

Ella walked into the kitchen rubbing her eyes after Rachel had awakened her. She looked tired. Her eyes were puffy. Her hair had somehow loosed itself from the Law of Gravity. She yawned and scratched her armpit.

“Why do I have to get up so early, daddy?” she asked.

“Because you have to go to school.”

“But I got up early yesterday.”

I suppressed a smile. This is the child that has woken her parents up before sunrise practically every morning of her life.

“Well, you have to get up this early every morning in order to go to school.”

Her eyes flew open. “Do what?”

“Well, school starts at the same time every day, so you need to get up at the same time every day.”

Her face twisted. “That stinks.”

“Welcome to the real world,” I said.

She walked over to the kitchen table and paused. “How long will I have to do this?”

“For the next nine months.”

Her mouth dropped open. “Seriously?”

“Yep. And then you get to repeat it for at least the next 12 years. And a few more years after that for college.”

Her shoulders slumped as her head bowed. “Ugh.”

“Yep. This is what it means to grow up.”

She walked out of the kitchen to find her mother, probably to ask the same set of questions in hope of a different answer.

It was weird, on the second day of school, to already answer one of the great existential questions of life: Is this all there is? It was even weirder that I didn’t think of it as an inappropriate question from my kindergartener. (After all, this is the little girl who looked at me on Sunday, after I’d called her outfit “cute”, and said, “I don’t want to be cute…I want to be gorgeous!”) After the emotional build-up to yesterday, almost anything by comparison seems trivial, even discussions about the monotony of life.

To her credit, Ella gamely got dressed and ready for school, and by the time we reached the bus stop, she’d forgotten all about the mind-numbing reality of early mornings the rest of her life. In fact, she found a way to make her walk to the bus stop a game, and giggled as the bus pulled up and opened its doors. She scrambled up the stairs excitedly and I saw her little face in the window again, all lit up like a field of candles.

I didn’t think much of it this morning, but now, I’m thinking that I can learn something from her, or at least from this morning. There are times when the weight of repetition in my daily schedule threatens to drive me insane, and even more times when life just seems lifeless. I can’t find anything I want to eat. I can’t find anything I want to read. I can’t think of anything I want to write. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.

How simple might it be, then, to just look at things through the eyes of my five year-old? To find something magical inside myself that makes the monotony of the moment into something more, something fun, even if that fun only lasts for a moment?

I think, all too often, I (and all adults, really) imprison ourselves within a limited imagination or starve our souls because we refuse to feed ourselves. Much better, then, to skip the next fifty feet and let it change your perspective than to trudge that same pathway and let it drive the dull knife of boredom in deeper.

Who knows?

I think I need to go get some sunshine.

Ella’s First Day: The Movie

I’ve made the build up to Ella’s first day of school a tad bit dramatic, according to my wife. So it’s only fair that, on the heels of such an accusation, I offer some proof of just how dramatic the day was.

If you’re not a movie fan, then feel free to read the book version. Like most adaptations, the book’s probably better anyway.

I give you, Ella’s First Day: The Movie. (Well, really it’s a trailer, but you get the idea.)

Miss Ella Goes to Kindergarten

My big girl on her first day of school.

Ella started school today. I woke up at six, got the coffee going, staggered around a little bit. The anxiety level was low, in part because of the unbelievably early hour. I heard Rachel scuttling around, getting ready for the big morning, and around 6:15 I went into Ella’s room and woke her up.

“What are you doing in my room, daddy?” she asked, yawning and stretching her tiny little arms.

“It’s time to get up.”

“But I’m still sleepy.” She yawned, looking very much like a kitten.

“Okay. I’ll come back in a few minutes. But it’s the first day of school.”

“Nevermind! I’m awake!”

She hopped out of bed and onto the floor. I told her to get dressed and bring her shoes into the living room and I’d get them tied for her.

She got undressed and brought everything into the living room instead. Again, I couldn’t help but notice how tiny she really is. I guess perspective strikes at weird moments.

Rachel and I got her clothed and Rachel brought out two big bows. Ella grimaced.

“Mommmmmeeee…I don’t want to wear a bow.”

“Why not? You’ll look so cute!”

“Ugh. I don’t want anything in my hair.” Ella went into classic pout mode: arms crossed, face scrunched. She looked like she’d just eaten a bug.

Rachel was undaunted. She was not about to let her living doll get away without some sort of hair accessory. “At least let me braid it, and put a ponytail holder at the end. Will that do?”

Ella nodded. Rachel left the room and Ella looked at me as if to say, Will you do something with her, please?

“You can’t deny your mother this moment,” I said. “She’s been waiting for it your whole life.”

Ella frowned. Rachel came back with a brush and a ponytail holder. The braiding didn’t take long.

“How long until the bus?” Ella asked.

“About thirty minutes,” I answered. “But you still need to eat breakfast and get medicated.”

“Can I do all that in front of the TV?” she asked.

I looked at Rachel. She looked at me. Did we really want to start her academic career off with a dose of the boob tube?

“Sure,” I said. “Why not?”

Ella pulled up the DVR’d version of Aladdin and munched happily on her Fruit Loops from a plastic baggie. She settled onto the couch and smiled.

After a rough start with Jon (who woke up chanting, “Bus! Skoo Bus!”) we got out the door about 20 minutes before bus time. I videotaped and took pictures the whole way, and when Ella’s friend Audrey and her family joined us at the bus stop, you could feel the collective angst rise. Some veteran schoolkids and their parents joined us, and after several tension filled minutes (including one false start, when a neighbor whose truck sounds like a bus drove by) the bus rounded the corner and pulled to a stop.

The kids got into a single file line, with Audrey last and Ella just in front of her. Each of the older kids got on the bus without hesitation, and when it came Ella’s turn, I held my breath.

How would she react?

She never hesitated, and if she did, it was only internally because her physical self went straight up the steps and hung a left into one of the first two seats. After a few moments of not being able to see her, her little face popped into view in the second window. It was obscured by the reflection of trees and the sunrise, but I could still see her – beautiful, smiling, blowing me a kiss – and I knew instinctively that she would be fine. A few seconds later Audrey’s face appeared behind her and the two fell into a shared giggle.

The doors to the bus closed. A sudden lurch took my daughter away from me and into the morning of her first taste of independence. Tears came unbidden and flowed, turning into a full-throated wail.

Jonathan watched his sister drive away and he couldn’t stop crying. I bent down.

“Are you sad to see Sissy go?” I asked.

“Skoo bus! I want skoo bus!” he replied. “I want ride skoo bus!”

After all the worry, those were the only tears shed. It’s going to be a great day after all.