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I wanted to close my eyes, but I couldn’t. Every jerk of the shaky mechanics around us forced me to hold her hand tighter than was probably necessary and while I wanted nothing more to get off the Ferris wheel, I knew how much she wanted to be on it so I swallowed my stomach that had moved into my throat and forced a smile until it was over. 

“We can see the whole world from up here!” she said, her messy bun bounced as she spoke.

A statement that seemed exaggerated, but was really the truth in that moment… I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. She was so excited and happy and mesmerized by riding the main ride she was too short for the last two years that when she stepped up to the picture measuring her height and realized she met the requirement, she personified joy.

We stepped out of the bucket once the ride was over and she met back up with her friends, the children of our friends, and we tackled the fair one ride at a time. They ran ahead throwing laughs behind them and they played a game where they plucked a duck to win a prize and they tucked away bags of cotton candy for later. 

The forecast called for showers all day, but Mother Nature was exceptionally kind to us that evening. Although we came prepared in our rain boots and umbrellas, the rain stopped and started in perfect time for us to collect a few hours of fun under a gray sky. We couldn’t let the fair come to town without stopping by just like we can’t deny... rain or shine... how fast she’s growing up on us.


Read about our previous trips to the fair:  My Fair Lady, Fair Game.


September 30, 2015

She brought them with her, the stuffed animals that keep her company, and she climbed in my lap. She rested her head on my chest and she timed her inhales with my own. We sat there just the two of us having an entire conversation without saying a word and we laughed and cried without moving our faces. These are the moments I live for, the moments when simply being together is all that matters.

One day, I won’t be the hero she makes me out to be. I won’t be the strongest man in the world or make the finest pot of pretend tea. I won’t be her favorite person or the best dance partner or able to fix whatever she finds broken. One day, I won’t be on the receiving end of her numerous proposals or the prince to her princess, the Kristoff to her Anna, the Eric to her Ariel, the Charming to her Cinderella… but I’ll always be her father.

Several nights ago she woke up crying, I ran into her room and hugged her and begged to know what was wrong. “You left me and never came back,” she said between sobs. Ever since that nightmare she’s requested extra cuddles and my heart swells and breaks with every beat. All the advice and books yet nothing prepares you for the real world of fatherhood, of parenting, when they just want to be held and when you refuse to let go.

Most days, I have to admit I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to parenting. I wrap my arms around her at every opportunity, I try to answer every question she throws my way, and I inherit her interests as my own. There isn’t a manual despite those who think they’ve written one. There are, however, plenty of conversations both silent and spoken with stuffed animals present for most and there’s love… there’s a whole lot of that. I suppose in the end, that’s all that matters.


September 23, 2015

I stayed a step behind, just within earshot, and a swift move away should a parenting decision immediately present itself while she walked hand in hand with one of her best friends. They discussed a passing butterfly, a monarch Madison acknowledged from a Halloween costume past, and the colorful shutters of the houses lining the streets littering their conversation with girly giggles and spontaneous skips. 

I observed the developing friendship between them and found myself smiling at how natural their bond is and how easy they’re able to trade sentences as if they’ve been friends a lifetime even though their age proves only two years is the case. I was unintentionally hanging on their every word when I heard her friend make a statement, an effort to correct her pronunciation.

It was completely innocent, not malicious in any way. It was an honest assessment, not critical at all. It was an observation her mother and I have both had on our own. It’s in these moments we see the true character of our children. It’s in these moments we witness the traits we take pride in ourselves or the faults we desperately hope they don’t inherit, a reaction that could easily make or break the day entirely. I held my breath and let her respond on her own…

“I know. I have trouble with my L’s,” she said. “I’m working on it though.”

An acceptable nod from her friend and they picked up right where they left off, creating inside jokes and laughing when they finished the other’s thought. I was impressed. I wish I could brush things off that easily or admit my struggles with such confidence or be that receptive without fear of hurt feelings. I’m constantly learning how to be a better me in the process of helping her become a better her.

That night we stood in front of the mirror placing our tongues just behind our front teeth listening to the sound L makes. We said every word we could think of that started with the letter and we la-la-la’d until we laughed and we laughed until our stomachs hurt. Her mother shared stories of struggling with the letter S letting out little whistles as she spoke and we practiced some more.

We soaked in every word she mispronounced because one day she’s going to master her L’s and we’re going to want nothing more than to hear yeah-yo instead of yellow and all the words we said over and over until they sounded funny and their spelling seemed questionable… look, learn, live, laugh, love... yet in those moments, their meanings had never been more clear.


September 16, 2015

He tilted his head to the side, wide eyed and listening, as we asked him to speak. He let out a sharp bark – the same bark I begged to hear ten years ago when he was just a puppy, when he first came into our lives, eager to hear if his voice matched his stature – and we smiled through tears because this time would be the last time and we didn’t have the heart to let him know.

It was just a week ago we realized he wasn’t putting pressure on his hind leg and a visit to the vet confirmed our fear that it was broken. We discussed several options deciding on the least invasive resolution first given his size and age and so he was sedated then fit for a cast. We were hopeful until we realized he was essentially on bed rest… unwillingly. We took him in for another cast. Then another one a few days after that until we noticed he somehow managed to wiggle part of his leg out of the enclosure.

The emergency vet clinic we rushed him to advised us it would be best to remove the cast entirely and, there in the cold exam room late on a Saturday night, we were told it might be best to remove his leg, too. Surgery wasn’t guaranteed because of his size plus recovery would put him in a cast, which was proven ineffective given our last attempt and so it seemed amputation was the only solution and we were advised to give it a day outside the cast then visit his regular vet to schedule the appointment.

We took him home with us that night, medicated and fragile, and held him tight desperate to make it right… to fix what we knew we ultimately couldn’t. Upon the next visit with his vet, we discovered his other hind leg was now troubling him. Options? Remove the broken leg and operate on the remaining one leaving him in a cast for months… unable to walk until it healed, if it healed. In those months of healing, his kyphosis (curvature of the spine) would worsen probably prohibiting him from walking at all ever again. 

Then the “quality of life” conversation reappeared, dark and heavy and ugly like the truth.

Our stomachs dropped. Our eyes watered. Our hearts ached.

We left the office with our once three pound dog now weighing under two pounds tucked in the bend of my wife’s arm knowing we would be returning before sunset only to leave again without him. We went home, we made him comfortable, we gave him all the things we’d denied him in effort to prolong his life over the years. He ate bacon because he’d always begged for our crumbs and drank coffee because if we ever left a mug unattended, we’d ultimately find him face first in it. He slept in our arms and licked our fingers. He stared at us through a haze of pain medicine and we stared back broken hearted.

He rode with us to pick Madison up from preschool and once we returned to the safety of our walls, we let her hold him for the last time, the little dog she’s never known life without, and she told him goodbye. We painted his paw and stamped a print on a thick sheet of cardstock to frame with his collar, a green ferret collar with a bell on it because dog collars weren’t made small enough for him.

Madison asked to draw him a picture and we quickly obliged handing her a sheet all her own. She drew a dog and a large plant and between them she drew herself, arms outstretched hugging them both. The only reference point at age four she has of something dying is the fiddle leaf fig tree we can’t seem to keep alive.

We left Madison with her grandmother and we slowly made our way back to the vet. A room was reserved for us and we sat there… just the three of us, for the last time. Many don’t understand how an animal can become such an important part of one’s life. Many don’t understand how pets are able to burrow themselves in a corner of your heart; a corner many don’t realize even exists, then they manage to expand it. They show us the meaning of unconditional love and they become part of our family, part of us.

He was given a sedative and we were left alone again to wait as he fell asleep. I sat in the floor holding him in the palms of my hands, wrapped in the green blanket he’s had for as long as I can remember and we cried an ocean of tears, we sat huddled together in a pool of defeat and sorrow and pain, our little family with the little baby we had for six years until our other baby came along. Allison kissed his tiny face and I rubbed the gray spot of fur under his chin. As he closed his eyes, we reminded him of all the laughs he gave us and all the joy he provided in hopes our last words would provide him with sweet dreams.

We mentioned the laps he used to run in his early years, his short strides defying the odds of speed, a tiny black ball of fur in a blur passing by only to land in our lap with a quick thump when he gave in to catch his breath. We mentioned how he always managed to find his way into a warm basket of laundry when we pulled it from the dryer, surprising us belly up and all four feet in the air when we chose a towel to fold. We mentioned how patient and gentle and understanding he was when we brought Madison home and we thanked him for being the best dog we ever could have asked for.

We reminded him of the all the times he hid in Allison’s bag, incognito at the bookstore or the grocery store, a privilege only his size would permit. We reminded him of all the nicknames he was given and how he’d answer to every single one regardless of how ridiculous they sounded. We reminded him of the early mornings when he would climb to the head of our bed and rest his head on my pillow, puppy breath in my face and close his eyes for five more minutes of sleep. We reminded him of all the stories Madison attempted to read him when she was learning to talk, practicing her words and sounding out syllables in the floor of her bedroom with him by her side.

Despite his size, his heart was always the largest thing about him. He lived to love and as we sat there holding him close, the vet administering a final dose, we wanted him to know we loved him, too. We still do. Someone said to me pets are a chapter of our lives, but to them… to them we’re the whole book. I never thought of it that way, but it’s true.

His bed still sits in our floor with an indention of where he last rested, what should be an invitation for him to return but instead it's a reminder he won’t. His food and water bowls are still sitting where he left them, half full with a few pieces scattered at their base. We know we have to empty them and pack them away, but we’re just not sure when… or how… to do it.

Last night, I woke at 2am to the sound of his bark. There was a shift in the bed and Allison rolled over to ask if I was awake; we didn’t acknowledge it but I know she heard it, too. He’s a part of us, of our home, of our story. As annoying as those constant barks were over the last ten years, knowing I’ll still hear them echoing through our walls provides an unexpected comfort, a sense he’s still with us in some way, evidence life really is all about the little things.

Speak, boy. Keep speaking.

Rest in Peace, Benson.
January 21, 2005 – September 8, 2015


September 12, 2015

The rain started as soon as we closed the front door behind us, but the weather couldn’t dampen her spirit in spite of the attempt… it was the first day of Pre-K and to say she was excited is an understatement. She chose her outfit the night before from a few preselected options and raced down the stairs once the white bow was clipped in her hair, the final touch signaling she was ready to leave the house, to face the day, to start her last year of preschool.

Although there have been two first days of preschool before this one, there was something different about the way she carried herself. There was something more mature in her stance, something more admirable about her enthusiasm. Her mother and I walked her to her classroom, hung her striped backpack upon its designated hook and watched as she drew the letters one after the other to spell her name on the attendance sheet.


She’s here and it’s never been more apparent. She’s the soundtrack of our days and the memories we recall when an unexpected laugh bubbles up. She’s the light bursting through our bedroom door in the middle of the night and she’s the motivation we never knew we needed. She’s the best parts of both of us all wrapped up in one and she’s the most rewarding gift we’ve ever received.

Present? Absolutely.

We watched over our shoulders as we moved towards the door, not a chance of additional eye contact offered by her as she immediately seized the moment to catch up with one of her best friends, then we left our little girl attempting to blink away thoughts of the toddler and the baby she once was. While her ever-developing independence is a relief to see, evidence we’re doing something right I suppose, the realization she needs us a little less as a result leaves a bittersweet aftertaste. 

We picked her up several hours later and had lunch at the place of her choice and we made our way home. We talked about her day, about the things she learned, about the friends she reconnected with. We wrapped up in a blanket on the couch with a movie and a book of her choice and as she gave in to the exhaustion of the day, the sun slowly made its way through the clouds and into our living room… a reminder that these really are our glory days.

Read about her previous first days of school: Preschool 2014, Preschool 2013.


September 2, 2015

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