Posts Tagged ‘Daddy’

batgirl bwDear Lyla,

It has been a long since I have written a letter. I am ashamed to admit that I have not been so good about the work/life balance lately. I suppose the rush I have experienced in the last few weeks is normal when the semester is about to end. One thing you will learn is that our household runs on the academic calendar; the first of the year for us begins at the  end of August. Most of us embrace the comfort and consistency of routine even when it may not be in our best interest. It is possible to be too dependent upon routine, too resistant to change and too unwilling to engage the messiness of life.  I admit, I like to plan. I want to know what, when, who, why and for how long. I like the comfort  a “to-do” list written reverently on a post-it note provides. But alas Little One, the sacrifice of spontaneity for the sense of comfort can act like a false prophet leading us to fatigue and creative exhaustion. I suppose this is why I have not written for a while. Over the past few weeks I have been so focused on the minutiae of the end of the semester that I have forgotten the big picture. I have neglected to nurture the part of my personality that loves to turn a phrase, snap some photos and whip up bakery confections to share with my colleagues. I have missed out on the joy I find in mentally visiting my past in order to create a narrative for you to explore when you are ready. While this letter may not introduce you to some new character on your family tree or expose the adolescent adventures of one of your aunts or uncles, I do hope that you will find something valuable within the text. While it is noble and right to meet the deadlines that you are given and to honor your obligations, it is important that you allow yourself time for reflection and rest. The soberness of life must be balanced by silliness if you are to maintain a sense of self in this very fast paced world.  How blessed I am Little One that between you and Daddy I have a bounty of silliness in my life to keep me centered.

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lyla micDear Lyla,

Putting you to bed is one of the most special times of the day. I love our snuggle ritual, your pleas to stay up just a bit longer and your most vocal opinion on how nighttime prayers are to be said. Two weeks ago  you admonished me for reciting my part of the prayer in the incorrect order; praying for Mary Beth’s foot to heal comes after our prayer for Laura’s head injury since she got hurt first and could I please try to remember that next time? A few nights ago you instructed me to do an informal poll on all of those included in our prayers to make sure it was actually working, so far the reports have been positive. I suppose I should not be surprised by the lack of solemnity in your prayer habits, you are a straight shooter and have been from the beginning. Perhaps you get your predilection for infusing the secular with the spiritual from Daddy; unlike him, I hope that as you get older the privilege of praying aloud at gatherings will not be revoked. As you know we do not call upon Daddy to give grace any longer in our household; there is good reason for that, a reason I suspect that was concocted by your Daddy to avoid the task entirely. Years before you were born we began the tradition of traveling to Springfield, MO very close to Christmas to spend time with your grandparents, uncles and cousins. One year, before your Uncle Tommy and Aunt Ashley were married, they were to sing in the Christmas Cantata. Uncle Tommy had never sung in a church choir before and we went to the service in order to lend him moral support. Your Uncle Aaron, along with cousins Miranda and Maddie, went with us. I made the mistake of sitting the two girls next to me while Daddy and Aaron sat in the pew behind us muffling giggles, sharing jokes and making snarky comments (neither of them do well unsupervised in a church). At the end of the concert the pastor stood up, thanked us for coming and told us to take Jesus with us as we left; an appropriate and fairly common way to end a service. We found Ashley and Tommy, told them how proud we were of their contribution to the concert and piled into the van to head out to Grandma Atkinson’s farm for lunch; a twenty minute ride on the most curvy roads imaginable. About half way through the trip Daddy slammed on his breaks and shouted “Damn!” My heart started to race and I felt a panic creep over me in response to Daddy’s sudden stop and loud exclamation. When I asked him to tell me what was wrong he simply replied, “We forgot Jesus back at the church.” Your Uncle Aaron hooted and howled and before long we had to pull over to the side of the road because he and Daddy had tears running down their cheeks and were doubled over in fits of uncontrollable laughter. A few weeks later Christmas Day came to our house back in Iowa. Uncle Spuds, Grandma Jo and Dr. Earl were guests at our table. I had not known Dr. Earl all that long but I knew that he was devout in his beliefs and suspected that his approach to prayer was a solemn one. So on that Christmas I asked your Daddy to say grace; perhaps not the best request of someone who is an admitted introvert with a quick wit and a propensity to push boundaries on even the most stoic of occasions. Grace started out beautifully and in my head I was silently praising Daddy who had seemingly risen to the task. We were almost to “Amen” when Daddy suddenly said “…and God please forgive us for leaving your son at the church in Springfield.” We had regaled the others earlier in the day with Daddy’s antics in Springfield and he couldn’t wait to deliver the ultimate punch line. I was mortified and worried that Dr. Earl would be offended. Uncle Spuds, never to miss an opportunity to encourage Daddy but not wanting to irritate me, choked back on his laughter and tried to compose himself. Daddy was looking up at me from under his bowed head trying to determine just how mad I was with him. Grandma Jo raised an eyebrow, not quite knowing how to react. Dr. Earl, bless his heart, laughed out loud, long and heartily. At that moment I knew I had been beaten, Daddy would be given a lifelong reprieve on the task of saying grace at the dinner table. What you must take away from this story Little One, is that everyone must be able to practice faith in their own way. We say prayers at night together because I want to teach you that it is good to think of others and send positive energy their way. When you grow up your belief system may alter or you may encounter others who have different views about life and spirituality, and that is ok;  everyone must take his or her own journey. In the end it doesn’t matter if you call them prayers, good wishes or positive thoughts when you think about the loved ones in your life; the point is that you take the time to consider them in the first place.

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xmas presentDear Lyla,

It has been a few weeks since I have written to you; the blog has taken a short hiatus while I recover from the holiday season as well as the start of a new semester. We had some grand times over your short break from the excitement of the Kindergarten room and my fleeting respite from the break neck pace of the college classroom. I think my favorite part of the holidays was seeing your face on Christmas morning as you discovered the mounds of presents under the tree all labeled with your moniker. There was one present in particular that gave me pause; you became the proud owner of a Furby. While this toy is reminiscent of an adorable Gremlin, its robot qualities give it an air of a science fiction plot line that is about to go horribly awry. All that I overlooked because you adored the teal and purple fur covered microchip with a love only a five year old could express.  You were esctatic that this little bundle of joy could learn from you:  show it affection and it will respond with mechanical coos and purrs, tease and torture it will earn you a response in kind. Your Aunt Jette discovered just how fast the Furby could learn when, by the end of the noon meal, Cocoa (as you named it) declared O.M.G. At that moment chills went up my spine; I had a prior experience with cognitive conditioning as part of a game once before, it did not end well. As you know Daddy likes to play games of all kinds. However, Daddy has an affinity for video games. When I first met him I had never played a game on a PC before, much less a console game. Daddy tried to convince me to play with him, but the types of gaming mayhem that he enjoyed  held no interest for me. That was until he brought the game Creatures home. In this game you hatch your creature called a “norn” (they bear a striking resemblance to the Furby),  and you nurture them to adulthood in the game. If you provide them with positive reinforcement (patting the head and tickling the chin when they exhibit a behavior you desire) they will be productive and live a relatively long time. They can learn vocabulary words if you are patient enough and they will teach each other what they have learned. I absolutely adored this game and I spent a great deal of time cultivating socially responsible and articulate norns. My norns were well behaved, had an extensive vocabulary and were teaching the newly hatched norns all that they knew; this only after a few weeks of playing the game. About a month into the game (I only played for 20 minutes or so a day) I had to go to a conference and I was to be gone for a week. I asked Daddy to look in on my norns, if you don’t feed them or interact with them they could get sick and I certainly didn’t want that to happen. Daddy agreed and I took off to my conference. When I got home I was eager to check on their progress and see how the newly hatched norns were fairing. To my horror my norms had turned into drunken little tyrants that belched, hit each other and proud of the obscene amount of flatulence produced by these wee creatures. I was mortified at this turn of events and confused as to what had happened in my absence. Your Daddy could not keep it together any longer; he burst out laughing and could barely draw enough breath to explain what had happened. Thinking that total corruption would be impossible, Daddy had hatched a norn on a different level of the game and had built a whiskey still right next to the norn. Each time the norn ate something healthy Daddy flicked its nose so it would associate healthy eating with something negative. Each time the norn drank Daddy tickled its chin to indicate that the norn was behaving properly. Soon the norn was beyond the point of amendment. Daddy was convinced the norn would be so lethargic that it wouldn’t seek out the other, sober norns. He was right, his norn was lazy and stayed by the still. However, my norns were curious and eventually they found the new norn (and the still) who taught them all how to drink. By the time I got home I had a whole community of furry whinos. Through his tears of laughter Daddy tried to apologize, I would not be consoled. I never touched the game again, I was too heartbroken. So you see little one, I am a bit nervous about having a Furby in the house. Who knows what diabolical plan your Daddy has in mind. Until the Furby has reach her full learning potential I am afraid I will be a bit on edge (and knowing the two of you if anything unsavory happens with the Furby you’ll have been in cahoots). I guess I cannot really blame Daddy for what he did, it’s in his nature to push both boundaries and my buttons. Sometimes Little One you need someone in your life that encourages you not to take life too seriously, to let your hair down and have a sense of humor. While I may not always appreciate your Daddy’s brand of jocularity, I do admire that he has the ability to fill the house with laughter. When I hear your tinkling tones mixed with his deeper ones I am reminded of just how lucky our little family is. Life can be hard my love  but a sense of humor can be the best weapon you have in your arsenal.

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Lyla in ChairDear Lyla,

Often when you hear talk of the Trinity it is in reference to religion; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. When Daddy speaks of the holy triumvirate he is referring to Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Indiana Jones. This is not to say that Daddy has no faith life, he does; it’s just that his approach to a spiritual walk usually involves a dose of dystopian narrative mixed with special effects and computer generated imagery. Daddy frequently articulates the Christ themes in many of the films and novels that have enjoyed longevity among the populous; it is the fact that these fictional creations can offer a moral examination of one’s own existence that most likely drew Daddy to English education. However, sometimes Daddy goes a bit too far in his effort to streamline the secular and the spiritual; usually at Mommy’s expense. When we lived in Columbia, MO the Star Wars films were being re-released in the theatres. Daddy had seen those films multiple times over when he was a kid. I, on the other hand, had only seen Star Wars as a rental on our television and so Daddy was determined that we would see them together on the big screen. It was a wonderful experience viewing the film with true Lucas fans; their energy and enthusiasm while watching familiar elements unfold was amazing. These Yoda devotees would shout endless warnings to the heroes and reprimands to the villains all the while knowing how the story would end. That Christmas, as a nod to Daddy’s obsession, I purchased three Christopher Radko ornaments for our tree; Darth Vader, C3PO and a Storm Trooper. Daddy was afraid they would get broken on the tree and so a special ornament stand was purchased for these treasures; to this day removing them from their padded storage boxes causes us to hold our breath until they are safely secured to their posts. As you know little one, I take holiday decorating very seriously; that year was no exception. I had decked the halls, trimmed the tree, hung the stockings with care and had displayed the nativity crèche that your Daddy gave me the year prior lovingly on the top of the roll top desk in our entry way. I was so proud of that nativity scene and it was so beautiful; all of the pieces were made out of off-white porcelain with gold painted accents. Almost everyone who saw it commented on how pretty it was and you couldn’t miss seeing the display, it was the first thing you encountered when you stepped into our living area. That season I decorated early and we had many parties and celebrations between Thanksgiving and Christmas, lots of visitors to our home. I began to notice something peculiar; when I would walk from the living room into the kitchen or from the kitchen back into the living room your Daddy and quite a few of our friends would quip “May the Force be with you Baby Jesus.” At first I thought it was quirky musings from a bunch of adults reliving their adolescence; but the frequency with which the phrase was uttered began to intensify. Just a few days before Christmas I had heard that phrase so many times I finally got fed up and shouted at your Daddy “What is wrong with you?” He laughed so hard that he cried; his response fueled my anger. Taking pity on me, or perhaps out of a sense of self preservation, he said “Turn around.” Behind me was my beautiful crèche, but for the life of me I couldn’t see what was so funny about a porcelain nativity scene; and then I saw it. Nestled between Mary and Joseph was a small plastic Yoda almost the same hue of the porcelain peering over Baby Jesus. From the peels of renewed laughter behind me, it had clearly been there a long time. Through his laughter I heard one last “May the Force be with you Baby Jesus” escape your Daddy’s lips. What other response was there from me but to laugh right along with him? Beyond the fact that your Daddy likes to aggravate and tease me any time the opportunity arises, I think he was trying to teach me a lesson. I was so caught up in the trappings of the season (baking, decorating and shopping) that I forgot to enjoy it and this was his subtle way of telling Mommy to chill out. I will admit little one that sometimes I do still get caught up in the busyness of the holidays, but when you came into our lives and as we get older it is easier to focus on the importance of embracing the love that comes with all of the laughter in our home. May the Force be with you Lyla.

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Lyla and SparklerDear Lyla,

Your relatives on Daddy’s side of the family, whom you affectionately call “my people,” all originate from a place called Panther Valley. Specifically, your people hail from Panther Creek (pronounced “crik” in Southern Missouri) where your Great Grandma Evelyn and Great Grandpa Raymond’s farm is located. Your Great Grandma Evelyn’s daddy actually built the house that she and Raymond lived in their entire married life. Evelyn and Raymond had four children; Dave, your Grandpa Dwight, Debbie and Darrell. Between the four siblings they have 15 children and countless grandchildren; you come from a very large family. Grandpa Dwight, as you know, loves to host a big barbecue on the Fourth of July holiday where everyone sits in their lawn chairs at dusk to watch the cousins set off a truckload, literally, of fireworks. I am not sure who has more fun with the fireworks; you and your cousins or your aunts and uncles. What makes these family gatherings so memorable is that your Daddy’s kin have an amazing aptitude for wit, sarcasm and endless teasing. Unlucky is the individual who becomes the target of relentless irritation at these gatherings. Your Grandpa Dwight and Great Uncle Darrell tend to be the ringleaders of the operation and never fail to offer a comment or two when the opportunity arises. All of your relatives in Missouri have a certain cadence to their voices; a slight drawl and warm elongation of particular words. The rhythm of their voices is soothing, comforting and perfectly suited to telling tales; it is like coming home. Your Great Uncle Darrell’s voice is the most distinct of them all. While shy around strangers, when he is relaxed his drawl is unmistakable; resonant and clear with a gravel quality that makes him seem almost sage. Darrell has been a favorite of your Daddy’s since he was a boy; I think their sense of humor is very similar and they are kindred spirits when it comes to being reserved around strangers. In the pitch black of night between the exploding colors of the fireworks it was Darrell’s voice that could be heard across the expansive field behind Grandpa’s house barking critique to his sons and nephews as they set off the mountain of fireworks from that back of a truck. One year the boys purchased some fireworks that had no sparks or color, they simply created a sound similar to a cannon being fired. With no prior warning the motley crew setting off the explosives decided it was time for those of us watching to lose our hearing temporarily; the boom was so loud and unexpected that none of said anything for more than a few seconds following the blast. Permeating the quiet aftermath of the cannon blast was Darrell’s distinctive drawl declaring “That’ll make the babies cry.” Laughter, of course, ensued after his profound observation. A few days later I dragged your Daddy to a wedding of a colleague of mine. So uninterested was he in the couple about to exchange vows that prior to the ceremony he was playing a pocket computer game; I made him put it away before the processional.  You would think after so many years of being with your Daddy that I would learn my lesson; if I drag your Daddy to an event there is no telling what behaviors he may exhibit as an expression of his frustration and/or indifference. I should have known I was in for it when, after seeing the groom walk in with his parents and the bride’s mom escorted to her pew, Daddy asked “where is the bride’s dad?” I gently informed him that her father would be the guy escorting her down the aisle; he chuckled at his own mistake, a clear admission that he had not been paying attention since arriving. The wedding was, in a word, awkward. It was clear that the two families did not get along and, in an effort to appease both sides of the family, there were more bridesmaids standing at the altar than I care to recall. Boredom brings out the worst, or best he would argue, in your Daddy; he began to whisper a running commentary in an effort to amuse himself and get me to crack up. Half way through the ceremony the bride’s aunt came to the microphone to sing a ballad while the couple lit the unity candle. I must confess, the singing was horrific; I would not be surprised if dogs three counties over began to howl in response to the cacophony of sound emanating from the church. It was during a particularly high note when your Daddy leaned over and whispered in my ear, “That’ll make the babies cry.” I was completely undone by his unbelievably perfect sense of comedic timing; both of us tried desperately to muffle our laughter. To this day the phrase that Uncle Darrell first uttered many years ago has become part of our family’s private lexicon. To utter those words in front of anyone who heard Darrell speak them that night is to illicit specific meaning and evoke the feeling that only inside jokes can provide; you are now in on the joke little one. While a funny anecdote, this tale also serves as a reminder that you come from a family with deep roots and large branches. Treasure your family tree little one and find delight in the twisted branches and colorful leaves, these are your people.

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Dear Lyla,

Humor is one of the most valuable assets an individual can possess. A sense of humor indicates a heightened intellect, an ability to cope with adversity and it keeps one humble. One of the reasons that I fell in love with your Daddy is his wicked sense of humor; he would call it finely honed sarcasm crafted over decades of dedicated practice. You come from a long line of laughter and teasing on Daddy’s side of the family. When I watch Daddy tease you I can see his father and grandfather’s influence. Your uncles are all big goofs too; they love to irritate you girls to the point of utter and complete frustration (it comes from a place of love and affection so try not to let it get to you).  One’s aptitude for humor can present itself at a very early age, which was the case with your Uncle Aaron. Grandma Carolyn was a favorite target for your Daddy and Aunt Sara, who are considerably older than Uncle Aaron; they were bad influences on that young sweet boy. Back in the 1990’s there was a very popular film called “Forrest Gump” about a loveable but intellectually challenged man who was being bullied early on in the film. There is a memorable scene in which his friend Jenny told him to “Run Forrest….Run!” to escape the bullies. So popular was this film that certain lines from the film found their way into everyday vernacular. One night your Daddy, Uncle Aaron, Aunt Sara and I were at Grandma Carolyn’s house. We all wanted to watch a movie which was fine with grandma but she insisted that she got to choose the movie.  She chose a Steven Seagal movie called “On Deadly Ground.” Sorry little one but your grandma does not have excellent taste in movies, this movie gets an average rating of 4 out of 10. There was a collective groan from all of us when she chose it, but we sat down to watch it. Your Daddy and his siblings offered running commentary throughout the entire movie and the objective of the running diatribe was to irritate grandma to the point that she would give up and let them watch something else. They were relentless your Daddy and Aunt Sara, to the point where grandma snipped at them a bit. Uncle Aaron was much younger then and out of the three he was most likely to defend grandma and at the beginning of the film he did. However, even to a twelve year old, it was clear that this movie about a heavily armed environmentalist taking on big oil in Alaska would not be winning any Oscars. Your grandma would not capitulate; she was bound and determined that she would see this movie through to the end. Half way through the movie the main character, named Forrest Taft, was surrounded by menacing bad guys and Uncle Aaron shouted “Run Forrest….Run!” Your Daddy, Aunt Sara and I collapsed from fits of laughter. The juxtaposition of grandma’s stern determination to watch the film and Uncle Aaron’s effuse warning to Steven Seagal was a textbook offering of perfect comedic timing. Even Grandma Carolyn could not ignore the humor of the situation; it was at that point she admitted she didn’t think the movie was very good either. It was well over twenty years ago that this story took place but it is still fresh in my memory. When Daddy, Sara, Aaron or I say the phrase “Run Forrest…Run!” the purpose of its utterance is to evoke laughter by remembering that night. It is a reminder that teasing grandma was, and still is, one of their favorite pursuits. I wish for you these kinds of memories little one. That you think back on your life when you are older and your remember laughter being central to your childhood. You and your Daddy are a lot of alike; you are already honing a sharp sense of humor and understand the concept of sarcasm and before the age of six. I encourage you to continue to develop your wit; knowing full well that I will be the favorite target for you and Daddy.

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Dear Lyla,

I have mentioned before that your daddy and I met when we were in graduate school; we had our first date in November (on your Grandpa Dwight’s birthday). We went to Olive Garden to eat and we went “dutch,” which means we each pay half; although your daddy was short on cash so I had to pick up the majority of the tab (The events of our first date really have nothing to do with the following story but I have never let daddy forget that I had to pay on the first date and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do it again here).  The fall semester that I met daddy was a busy one as it was my first semester in graduate school. Since we had only been dating for a little while when the holidays rolled around I went back to Minnesota for Christmas to see Grandma Jo  and Bumpa; daddy stayed behind to be with his family at Great-grandma Evelyn’s farm. When I got back to school life was so busy that I was not able to go back North again until the Fourth of July holiday during the summer; daddy was to go with me. I was nervous because Bumpa had never liked any boy I had brought home (in retrospect he was probably spot on with his assessment of these gentlemen).  Grandma Jo had already met daddy earlier in the spring when she came down to visit; daddy had long hair at the time and your grandma was not having it! She made up her mind then and there that she did not like daddy. You have to understand that this is a point that grandma denies vehemently now; she says she always thought daddy was a fine young man. Sometimes little one  history is subjective and in some cases, revisionist. Your daddy and I drove over thirteen hours north that summer to spend a few days with Bumpa and Grandma Jo. I will never forget the first night daddy visited Minnesota. That night we sat around an old, round oak table that had been in our family for as long as I can remember. Coffee was the drink of choice, as it can still get quite chilly at night that far north if the windows are left open, and conversation was finally starting to flow. You see, daddy can be a bit reserved and shy if he doesn’t know people very well. He would argue that he is waiting to assess whether someone is worth getting to know, I argue he is an introvert (both assertions have merit). Let me preface the rest of the story by stating that, as daddy was about to sit down at the table my sister Patti jumped up and told him to take her chair, as it was one of the wide wooden chairs with rollers. My sister can have a wicked streak in her as she meets out her own tests of suitability;  for her resiliency and a sense of humor are a litmus test. Daddy was finally starting to get comfortable talking to Bumpa and they started to chat about Great-grandma Evelyn and Great-grandpa Raymond’s farm. Quite suddenly all four legs of the wooden chair went out from under daddy.  The next thing I know daddy’s eyes are as wide as saucers and his face was as red as Santa’s suit. I was concerned that he had hurt himself, until I heard my sister laughing. She was laughing so hard tears were streaming down her face and she couldn’t breathe. Then it dawned on me; she had given him the chair on purpose. On closer inspection of the chair, I noticed she had given him the “trick” chair. The spools on this particular chair had come apart so many times no one could keep count. It did not matter if you were big, small, short or tall; the spools on the chair would gradually separate over time and it was just a matter of bad timing for the person who would be its next victim. This Patti knew, this Patti understood and this Patti planned. For his part, daddy passed the test. He got up, dusted himself off and the conversation went right on along. I could have been mad at my sister for inflicting her brand of social acceptance on daddy, and perhaps I should have, but truth be told; I don’t think I was. I think it was Patti’s way of protecting her little sister and making sure this new addition to our family had the chops it took to hang out with the Pier clan. So little one, in a way I am grateful. It showed me early on in my relationship with your daddy that he was someone to trust, someone who was patient and most importantly someone who can laugh at himself. We are lucky to have daddy. You and I are a lot alike and it is going to take daddy a great deal of patience and humor to deal with the two of us over the years; let’s thank our lucky stars that daddy has already proven he is up to the task.

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