Archive for January, 2010

The Flunkie

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

It’s tough having a service dog flunkie.  Pablo is loving, gentle and obedient.  The perfect dog – until he gets bored.  You see, he’s trained to heal, cuddle by a bedside and can even pick up a pen off the floor.  Unfortunately he can also open doors.  I don’t know if he picked this up in training or if he somehow figured it out on his own, but either way he comes and goes as he pleases. 


Since returning from the week with the grandparents, Pablo has been lonely during the night.  Most of the time he sleeps down the hall in the laundry room with the door open.  But last night as we slept comfortably in our bed, I awoke suddenly to the sound of our door opening and then closing ever so softly.  Immediately I expected the worst.  Was it a burglar?  Maybe Gracie?  I waited on the side of the bed, sitting ready for anything.  But it never came.  Complete silence – then a sigh.  Burglars don’t sigh.  Gracie would already be snuggled up in our bed by now.  I peered around the corner.  There curled up in a ball was Pablo, his eyes looking back at me from the corner of the room. 


I let him lay.  After all, if he could open doors, I had no prayer of keeping him contained.  Then, this afternoon, as we returned from work, Pablo was no where to be seen.  I looked in the laundry room, in the basement, in the garage – nothing.  But on my last pass through the kitchen I heard a whimper.  I opened the pantry and there he was.  After checking with Brooke I confirmed that she left him alone in the kitchen as she took Gracie to school.  Somehow he had not only managed to open the pantry door, but also close it behind him.


I guess I should consider myself lucky.  How many people have a dog that can open doors, and then close it behind him?  After all, who wants a dog that leaves the door open?  How inconsiderate.  Normally I’d be worried.  But despite his new talent, Pablo does nothing wrong.  Except for the occasional tissue ripping when I drop a Kleenex (I think he has an abnormal fear of tissues), he lacks either the energy or the imagination to do anything wrong.  Instead he sits in the corner waiting for the moment that we return home to play.  I guess I could command him to “stay” and he probably would, but there’s a part of me that wonders what he’ll do next and which room I’ll find him in tomorrow.  And that’s fine with me – as long as he closes the door behind him.  Maybe next time I can teach him to take out the garbage.

Donut Holes

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

It’s 3245 steps from our front door. Most of the time we walk, Gracie always a step or two ahead, anxious for the destination. Other times I run, desperately trying to keep with her as she plows ahead corner to corner on her hot pink punk bicycle. It’s our time alone as a father and a daughter.

Most people enjoy a sleepy Saturday morning. We, on the other hand, wake earlier than the weekday, just for the chance to get an early start. She’s usually up first, rising early to dress and brush her teeth before waking me while Mom flips to the other side in an effort to squeeze just a few more minutes from her pillow. She doesn’t know I can hear her from down the hallway as she opens her the drawers to get her socks. Still, I feign sleeping, waiting for her to tell me it is time to go.

Minutes later we put on our coats and head for the door. By now she’s already prepared her bike, strapped on her helmet and developed a plan. “Dad, this time you follow me. I want to choose the path”, she tells me as she pushes the bike out the door. She tries a running start, pushing the bike with one leg while the other rests on the peddle. She falls. “I’m OK”, she says as she brushes off her jeans and pulls up the bike. No amount of blood or scrape will deter her from her mission and I agree. It’s donut day.

They say that you burn off the calories in a donut with just 28 minutes of walking. Last time we went to the bakery it took us 26 minutes. This time I’ll have to walk slower. And including the trip back to the house, I figure I can have two donuts this time, as long as I walk slow then too. Somehow I don’t think Gracie goes through the same rationalizing that I do. Still I don’t do it for the exercise and I don’t do it for the sugar. I do it to meet my daughter. Each Saturday we talk about the week, talk about our plans and talk about the scenery. This morning she told me about her boyfriend. “Let’s just call them friends”, I tell her. “No Dad, they’re boys and they’re friends – they’re boyfriends”, she responds. She tells me she likes them and one day plans to marry some of them. “Aren’t you a bit young to be thinking of this”, I ask. “No”, she replies, offering no explanation. I disagree and tell her so, but she’s just as stubborn as I am and continues to talk about her “boyfriends”. I listen and make a point of commenting on her “friends”. She glares at me each time she hears the word. “Dad, don’t worry. I won’t have kids”, she says, “Having kids really, really hurts and I don’t want a shot.” I’m not sure how to respond, but I know what she’s talking about. Ever since visiting Grandma Jody and accidentally turning on the channel to the latest reality pregnancy show instead of Spongebob she’s reassured us that this would never happen to her. Sad to say she might be scarred for life.

We walk the last few steps in silence. I know in her mind she’s already deciding between a chocolate covered donut or sprinkled.  Inside I choose the cinnamon and chocolate donut. She chooses the coconut and chocolate donut. The lady at the counter raises her eyebrows and asks again, unsure if Gracie really wanted the coconut donut to go with her cranberry juice. She does and this time she comes through loud and clear. From there we site and once again talk. This time it’s about the shoe repair place across the street and how easy it would be if he could clip her shoe laces so she’d never have to worry about tying them again. This time it’s my turn to roll my eyes.

I love Saturday mornings, not for the donuts or the walk, but because it is our time to connect. Gracie tells me she loves it too. And this time instead of riding her bike, she asks me to push it so that she can hold my hand as we walk back home. This is what I love and this is my daughter. A hundred or so steps later its over as she asks for her bike and rides off again with me jogging to catch up. If only it would last a bit longer. Maybe another ten years or so.

Family Vacation

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Brooke tells me I’m a nerd. Gracie tells me she knows everything already. And it is only the second day of a too long vacation.

We don’t vacation well. Never have. Brooke’s version of a vacation is a congested city of 8 million people. Mine is primitive wilderness camping, never staying at the same place two nights in a row. Gracie’s version is a trip to the movies and a never ending MP3 player. So when I bought a RV, I figured it was the perfect balance. It was small, thus enabling it to park in normal parking spaces and navigate the tight corridors of the city. It was new, complete with two TV screens and MP3 hookups. And it was about as close to camping as I would ever get.

First we tried to kayak. Gracie brought her headphones and MP3 player, stopping only to ask how much longer and check her watch, even before climbing down from the dock into the kayak for the first time. Brooke just sighs. She’s being polite, but even she looks at her watch. Still I paddle on. They’ll get the idea, I tell myself. They’ll learn to like it. I even start to lie to myself. But 100 feet from the dock, Brooke sighs again as she zigs to the left and then to the right. At this rate she’ll paddle ten times what I do. I offer help. “Lean into the stroke,” I say, “you need to always paddle on both sides, just with less intensity.” She instantly shoots me a look that makes me want to put a bit more distance than a paddle length between us. She says nothing. Gracie just keeps singing. I distinctly hear a line from a recent Miley Cyrus song between the misdirected words. “It’s a hoedown, showdown”, she sings off-key.
Minutes later I give up as Brooke beaches her kayak for the fourth time and Gracie asks for the seventh time when we’ll be done. The RV is still in sight and the paddles are barely wet. Yet I know it is not worth pushing. At this rate Gracie will lose her patience and Brooke will begin to hyperventilate after all the sighing. Better to dock the kayaks and try something else.

Something else is the beach. We park the RV at a beach campground that’s sure to please. Electric, water and a scenic view. And for a moment, even Brooke seems to approve. But then again any excuse to get out of the RV is an improvement to her after riding 22 hours in the past three days. “Can we watch a movie tonight,” Gracie asks. I relent, after all, I’m going for Dad of the Year. Maybe this might work after all.

I suggest a trip to the beach to fly kites. It’s about all I can think of when the temperature hovers in the 50s and the wind howls. Luckily I checked the weather from home and packed with this in mind, even packing a special kite just for Gracie. Gracie can’t wait. Even Brooke this time breathes a sigh of relief instead of impatience. I join her.

Moments later we’re at the beach. No movies, no paddling – just time as a family. I unfurl a parafoil kite for Gracie. It’s guaranteed to work in any wind. Then I get out the special kite – a double stunt kite with a 50’ tail that’s been sitting in the corner of our basement for 12 years. Gracie’s eyes widen. Brooke rolls her eyes and calls me a nerd. “Somehow I knew you’d have a kite like that,” she says, “you just couldn’t be normal.” She’s probably right. While my friends shined their sports cars and played football, I was busy flying kites and driving a minivan. Gracie can’t wait to give it a try. Yet after one attempt she’s clearly frustrated. “This is stupid,” she yells. I offer to help, holding the strings from behind until she could get a feel for it. “Dad, I know how to do it,” she yells again, “let me do it.” I step back. The kite falls to the ground. “Arghhh!” It’s still “stupid” to her. I put the kites away and we head back the RV.

Tonight we watched a movie while the sound of the waves beckoned at the door. I guess it could have been anywhere, even at home. Still, what mattered wasn’t the kayaks, the kites the RV or the movies. It was about being together. 22 hours away or in the comfort of our home we’ll find that common ground, even if I’m still a nerd and Gracie knows it all. And somehow I don’t see either of those two things changing for years to come.

Mini Dad

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

Gracie calls me “Mini Dad”. I guess that’s just a smaller serving size of a dad. She says it’s because I’m smaller than all the other dads. And looking at all the other fathers, I can see what she means. At 5’4” on my tip toes, I don’t exactly look down on anyone. As a matter of fact, other than children under the age of 7 (and even some of them are debatable), I’m pretty much shorter than everyone else. I still climb on counters to get to the top of the kitchen cabinet, I still have to check the height restrictions on rides and in some states I may even be forced to sit in a booster seat as I drive through (Ohio may have even joined those restrictions as of late). So when she calls me “Mini Dad”, I can’t say I’m much surprised.

Tonight at a father-daughter event, Gracie took notice, even pulling me aside to point out which dads were taller than me (and that was every dad) and which dads were the “tallest people she’d ever seen”. But then again, when you’re 7 and a little shy of 48”, “tallest” is relative. She continued on telling me how one day she’d too be taller than I am. Little did she know that her genes will have other plans.

I’m OK with being “mini”. I guess I never really noticed – at least until Gracie started pointing it out. I never played basketball, never lived in a house with 10’ ceilings and never had to duck when I walked in a room. Somehow height never mattered quite that much. I doubt it will in the future either.

As we left the event, Gracie told me not to worry, that I could still do “lots of things” even if I wasn’t the tallest dad in the room. She then reminded me that she still loved me even if I was a “Mini Dad”. I see her point, you see, my heroes aren’t taller than 4’ and they accomplished the impossible. But to me, they were both larger than life. They were two little girls – my girls – and they taught me more than I could have imagined and still do to this day. Even if I’m a Mini Dad, I’m still a hero to them as well. And I’m just fine with that.