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:

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.

Hello Kitty: The Last Day of Childhood

The Destructor has been chosen...this freaking anime cat will take away my daughter's chldhood tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow morning, I will wake up earlier than usual. I will most likely have to rouse my daughter from her bed and usher her into the kitchen, where we’ll begin our normal morning routine. Only it won’t be normal anymore. There will be changes.

She won’t have the option of starting her day with her usual televised friends. She won’t be able to lay about in her nightclothes, playing with her dolls or ponies, until her mother or I insist on her getting dressed. Chances are she won’t even have time to bug her little brother. Ella will get dressed, get fed, put her hair into a bow, and together we’ll walk up the street to her bus stop.

Tomorrow, my daughter, bedecked in Hello Kitty, will say goodbye to the only life she’s known.

Over a single night, all that my family has known will change. And it will be a significant shift, one that will not correct, one that will not return to us except in brief stints known as winter, spring and summer break.

I was doing okay with that reality for the past few days, but much like the evening before major surgery, or your wedding, or any other life-altering day, I’m starting to feel a little less confident and a little more wistful. Almost panicked, even.

Do all people experience these kinds of shifts in the same way? Is it the singular feature of parenthood to feel more acutely those changes in your child’s life that signify maturation? I looked at the faces of other parents this morning at church and couldn’t detect any anxiety on their parts. But I could feel my heart beating wildly with each minute slipping by. I watched Ella play with her friends after the luncheon at our church and all I could think about was that at this same time next year she would be a completely different Ella. She wouldn’t be a precocious pre-K girl anymore; she would be something other, something undefined, something unpredictable.

Something foreign.

Of course that’s only true if I neglect to undergo this metamorphosis with her, and there is a real part of me that wants to scream, “No, this can’t be happening!” I feel as if somehow some giant, faceless force is attempting to wrench my little girl from my hands and take her somewhere I cannot go.

But the truth is, if I do not follow her on this new path, it will not be because I was forbidden; it will be because I chose to stay behind, cradling the past as fiercely as I once held her. This scares me because I can see the temptation of it and feel the pull towards that choice, but I know if I pull back and hold onto my memories of Ella’s early childhood as the basis for how I see and interact with her, I will lose her twice. Once, because she will move on and grow up and become herself as she is meant to be. Twice, because my memories will fade and, having made no new ones, I will be left with a dissolving image even more foreign and frightening than I could imagine.

So I will wake up tomorrow and get her out of bed. I will hold her longer than I normally would because I know that it will be the last time I can pull her into my embrace with the guarantee that nothing will happen to her unless I let it. I will crave that sense of protection that has safeguarded us both, even while we both knew it was a facade. I will let her go, my heart ripping to pieces and rebuilding itself only to rip into pieces again, and I will fix her a Pop Tart. Or a bowl of Cocoa Krispies. Or a bag of Frosted Flakes. Or maybe even a stack of pancakes, though I doubt that because she’s not really been into pancakes recently (just one more sign of the advancing of time). I will hurry her through her breakfast because, for the first time in her life, she will have a schedule that she must keep, a schedule that is enforced by a new entity that is greater than mom and dad and must be obeyed. She will have to dress and get medicine and brush her teeth and check her backpack and put on her shoes and clean her room and trek the Green Mile to the bus stop where her life, her young and frail life, will be forever changed by the opening of those big yellow doors and her first steps onto the Cheese Wagon.

In short, tomorrow morning I release my second-born, first-surviving child into the maws of the masochistic rat race that consumes us all with the same ferocity, while simultaneously losing my own divine illusion of control.

Two innocences for the price of one.

I can hear her singing now, a random yelp to herself and her friends “the Stuffies” that means nothing more to me than the very essence of her purity of soul. I hear it, and I tear up at the thought that some bruiser of a fifth grader may make fun of her tomorrow in the hallway. I hear it and I fill with rage at the very notion that someday some clumsy oaf will make an advance against her will and quite possibly she might feel helpless to resist.

Some people see the first day of Kindergarten as a bittersweet memory that signifies their child is growing up and will soon embark on new adventures.

I see the first day of Kindergarten as quite possibly the first steps to Hell. Or at the very least my own descent into madness.

It’s so bizarre, really, just how much of how I see the world is revealed through Ella’s venturing out into it. How contrary my internal thoughts are to the way I’ve presented the world to her. I’ve raised her to believe in herself, to believe in the powers of goodness and honesty, to trust her own innate creativity and intelligence and to resist the corrosion of conformity for as long as she can.

And all the while, I’ve harbored this festering hatred for the world I’ve painted with such caring detail. In essence, I’ve either lied to my child or to myself, and perhaps both; I’ve spent too long, it seems, dancing between two worlds instead of just inhabiting one.

Tomorrow, then, is my day of reckoning.

Will I choose to follow my daughter into her new world and do my best to reinforce those values and beliefs that I have instilled in her in order to help her become the very best person she can? Or will I hide, like a coward, in a hell of my own making, succumbing to the worst of all possible fates: being a wretched little man, afraid of the world and its unpredictability, who loses his beloved daughter because of his own weakness?

For better or worse, I must choose. As much for Ella’s sake as my own. And the choice will make my world radically different, for the good or the bad.

Who knew a day filled with excitement and potential and squeaky new Hello Kitty accessories could be so metaphysical?

The Kindergarten Round-Up

Skittles - they're a lot like Xanax, only fruitier.

This morning I volunteered to serve as a registration helper in Ella’s kindergarten classroom. It was the annual school registration day, when all of the kids and their parents parade through the school and fill out more paperwork than a standard home mortgage application, while simultaneously being recruited for 10,000 different clubs and volunteer programs as they are also trying to find out what bus their kids will ride.

In short, it’s chaos.

But it was lovely. Ella’s teacher, a lovely woman I shall henceforth call Mrs. M, was a joy to work for and seemed wonderfully interested in being the best teacher ever. She was easy to talk with, and was interested in hearing about my daughter, just as she was interested in hearing about each of her 18 students. I think Ella will love her class and do well under her instruction.

The kids in Ella’s class were sweet, but they all are at that age, at least at first. I’m sure that once the school year gets underway, they’ll be seven different kinds of crazy, but for today they mostly came in and played on the floor while the parents filled out the endless forms. I didn’t spot any kids that made me nervous – if you’re a parent, you know what I’m talking about: there are some kids that just give you that vibe and you just know that the little turd is going to somehow, someway do something to your flesh and blood so you prepare to dismantle the child in your mind. It sounds cruel and mean, but if you have a little one and ever run across one of those kids on the playground, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Overall the day went well. The smallness of the school struck me again, despite the fact that the classrooms are large and spacious, and the school is not even close to being at capacity numbers-wise. I guess when you stand in a room scaled to the smaller world of children, you find yourself feeling positively Gulliverian – waiting for the wee ones to rope you and haul you to the ground in mutiny. Tiny chairs, tiny pencils, tiny everything just reinforced for me the fact that my tiny daughter is growing up.

But I didn’t cry. Not once. I kept it together, at least until a very sweet woman at my church, Jenny Strozer, gave me a gift bag as I was leaving the office. Inside the bag was a note that read:

Dear Jason –

I know Monday will be a BIG day for you…so I got you some things to help you make it through the day: tissues (to use while crying), Xanax (to relax), and a paper bag (to hyperventilate).

You can do it!


And lo and behold, the bag did contain tissues and something to help me relax – two bags of Skittles, one of my all-time favorite candies. The sweetness and thoughtfulness of the gesture brought tears to my eyes on the ride home, not just because she was thinking about me, but because she knew how much I love my daughter.

Gotta love a woman who reads the blog and knows me that well.

And Jenny’s gesture reminds me just how powerful of a platform this blog really is, not in terms of readership or public awareness, but in terms of keeping track of history. I know Ella may not appreciate me writing about her so often, but I’m glad that whatever else I put on this electronic page, the love I have for her shows through. She may never read a word of what I write, but the timelessness of the Internet will always hold a record of my love. And that, in and of itself, is a neat thing to have as a father.

I’m feeling good about Monday now. I know I’ll probably blubber up as soon as she steps on the bus (and if you think I’m not videotaping that, you’re hysterically insane), but overall I’m not worried about how she’ll do once she gets to school. I know she’ll do just fine.

And from my lips to God’s ears: may that be a trait she carries with her the rest of her life, wherever she may find herself.

Now, here’s to one last weekend with my little girl. On Monday, she’ll well and truly be my big girl forever more.