It’s hard for me to put into words how I feel about my dad.
He is kind, wise, generous, honest, funny, hard-working and compassionate. He was a provider, a supporter, a caretaker, and my biggest fan. He always told me, “Go for it!” and made me believe in myself.
How do I adequately say “thank you” to the man who who helped me become who I am? I am fortunate to have had the parents I did. I hope my kids feel the same about me.
I tried my best to show how much I love, admire, and respect him long before I started blogging, when I submitted an essay, “Priceless Treasures” (starts on page 53) for the anthology, “My Dad is My Hero.” I was honored it was included, and I share it now in honor of Father’s Day, and this man who really is my hero.
Against my better judgment, I wore flip flops to the dog park on a 90-degree day. Big mistake. Traipsing after the tennis ball, I stepped right in a pile of fresh poop.
Oh, I beg of you. You, yes you, with the cute, cuddly Chow Chow, and you with the pair of poodles, and everyone else who comes here, I plead with you to watch where your dog does his business. Because as well as leaving a mess, this park smells pretty freaking horrible on a hot day. I’m still pretty new to this dog thing, but I’m the stay-at-home-dog-mom, so I’m a regular at the dog park now. I find most pet parents to be responsible, lovely people. I look forward to friendly conversations as I try to wear out our boisterous Bella throwing the same ball approximately 872 times. But nearly every day I see something that irks me about this canine community.
We all know parents have some pretty strong feelings surrounding playground etiquette (share, take turns, stop texting and watch your own kid, you know the drill). Some of these guidelines should also be adopted when we take our dogs to the park to play.
So I propose eight commonsense rules of the dog park.
1. Clean up after yourself. I know you want to gossip with the your human friends or maybe just sit down and relax with your cell phone while your puppy plays with the other pooches, but please, keep an eye out for the tell-tale stance. You know when you go to the park, your dog is going to go. When he’s been out of sight for a while, chances are he’s done it. Don’t leave it behind for us to pick up – or step in. There are even bags available if you forgot yours. This seems like Dog Owner 101, but I can’t believe how many piles I dodge. Trust me, this is a lot worse than stepping in your kid’s Gogurt or finding an abandoned juice box that didn’t make it to the garbage can.
2. Bring your own toys.
Listen, I’m all about sharing. I’ll throw the ball for your dog too. But if Fido chases my dog’s ball then runs away with it, just bring it back. “That’s not yours,” you can say, just like we do when our children claim another kid’s truck or doll. “They’ll let you play with it, but we have to return it.” And if you know your dog loves playing fetch – which you must, because he does it with me every single day – maybe invest in a Chuckit of your own? You can get one online for like 8 bucks.
3. Don’t let your baby be a bully.
Dogs love to play, we know. Some are more rambunctious and louder than others. I get that. But if your dog is overly aggressive with other animals or people, making too much noise, or just getting in someone’s way, step in. The other day I was surrounded by three yapping Chihuahuas I’ve never seen before. They relentlessly circled me for at least 10 minutes, jumping, yipping, jumping, yapping. There’s no way the owner didn’t hear them. When I finally tried to escape to a different part of the park, they followed me. Their owner saw them with me and said, “Were they harassing you? They’re kind of out of control, so they just harass everyone.” Not cool.
One day my excitable dog took a liking to girl with long hair and wouldn’t leave her alone. I called her off, pulled her off, to no avail. So you know what we did? We left. No one else should have to deal with my dog’s misbehavior – or yours.
4. Don’t be a helicopter parent.
If you are worried your little princess might get hurt or dirty, put her in the separate, fenced small dog area. I’ve seen giant greyhounds and tiny terriers get along just fine, but if you think every big dog is out to devour yours, don’t let her roam. Don’t expect all the dogs in the park not to check each other out, and say, “Do you want to be my friend?” Unlike our kids, their feelings won’t be hurt when one says no, but you can’t police their introductions. Also, if you’re a mom who insists on going down the playground slide with your toddler on your lap, you probably shouldn’t bring her to the dog park either.
5. Safety first.
There are two gates at each entrance. Please make sure you close at least one (preferably both) when coming or going. There are way too many distractions beyond the fence – other dogs, joggers, oh and loud cars and trucks – to chance someone else’s dog darting off.
6. Dress appropriately. I will do everything I can to keep my dog from rubbing her muddy face up against you, but chances are, she or another is going get your white pants dirty. I apologize (most people shrug it off with, “Well she’s a dog.”) But if your wardrobe is important to you, leave the designer duds at home and wearing your oldest jeans or yoga pants. And boots.
7. They won’t always listen to you.
Like our kids, I think dogs have selective hearing. I hear you calling your dog. I’ve heard it 100 times. He hears you too, but he’s having way too much fun to do what you say. When it’s time to leave, or if you need to get your dog out of some trouble, you might just have to walk over and get him.
8. Leave it how you found it.
Simple: If your dog poops, you scoop. I know, I’m repeating Rule No. 1. But apparently it needs to be done. The sign doesn’t say, “Watch your step.” My shoes and I thank you.
Hey kiddo. I’m sorry I missed your big baseball playoff game the other day. It was your best game yet, and your huge hit helped send your team to the championship. I wasn’t there because I was at my high school — a place I hadn’t been for 30 years — singing with other former choir students in preparation for a reunion concert to honor the director who inspired and influenced countless students over her career.
During a break from our rehearsals, I checked my text messages, and Dad had been keeping me up to date on the game. I let out a “Whohoo!” and told everyone around me about your great success. We all cheered for you and your team.
Then we headed back on stage to keep singing, which was where I really needed to be that night. It was a big decision to go on this trip during this incredibly busy end-of-the-school year rush. I felt guilty about leaving Dad and you, about buying a plane ticket, asking my friends to help shuttle you to your activities (thanks to my mom tribe, who totally got why I wanted to be there). I told you there would be a lot of games in your life, but this reunion concert was a once-in-a-lifetime event, and I really wanted to be part of it.
Once I was standing on the risers under the lights, sharing harmonies with singers who I had known for decades, I knew I had made the right decision.
I haven’t gone to my class reunions because our family had other things going on. But being at this reunion was important for me, and it turned out it was even more meaningful than I expected. I stayed at Grandpa’s house with two of my best friends from high school. When we all piled into the car, parked at our high school and walked into the auditorium for rehearsal, it felt like no time had passed. We had made that same trip hundreds of times during high school.
I spent endless hours in that auditorium over four years, rehearsing for concerts, learning songs from “The Messiah,” and practicing for musicals like “Hello Dolly” and “The Music Man.” One year, my friends and I went on stage for a special number, dressed in robes with bandanas and curlers in our hair and sang a song called, “We’re Not Ones to Go Round Spreading Rumors” that was made famous by an old TV show you’ve never heard of. We made up our own lyrics about classmates and teachers and we brought down the house. I hadn’t thought of that for a long time.
There’s a lot of stuff about high school I’d rather forget. But being in choir was the best part. Music does bring people together, and it was magical to reconnect with classmates and others who were just as moved as I was to sing together again under the direction of a woman who was a big part of our lives at a time when we were learning who we were. This time around, people were older, some grayer or balding, some heavier, some gorgeous as ever. But the voices were the same, and I felt sheer joy sharing the stage with them all. Our conversations picked up like we had been there yesterday, like we were all still the teenagers we once were trying to get our songs pitch-perfect.
When we weren’t rehearsing or reminiscing, our conversations revolved around what had happened since then, our families, our careers, and our real lives that started after we left high school and our parents. We have all lived through a lot, survived blows more crushing than not being asked to prom, and had moments much bigger than high school graduation. No one can tell us that things that seem like the end of the world at 16 won’t matter one bit when we’re holding our grandchildren.
See, this is who I was long before your dad or sister or you came along. Just a teenage girl who loved singing, worked on the school newspaper, hand-wrote papers for class, went to parties, and worried about whether any boy would ever like me. We giggled with our friends on phones mounted on the wall and met up at McDonald’s to see what was going on that night. We laughed, we cried, we sang. So many memories flooded me as we went through seven poignant songs in that auditorium that was so strangely familiar.
My family will always be my priority. You guys are my heart, my present (my gift) and my future. But my past, experiences like those I relived last week, shaped who I am and made me the person I became that led me to you all. It’s important to maintain those relationships, to nurture the parts of me that are all mine, so I can help you become the person you want to be.
I’ll probably be humming, “How Can I Stop from Singing,” and “Thank You for the Music,” for a while, as I recall this special time with longtime friends. But I’ll be in the stands for that championship game this week, uplifted from my time away.
I talked to you twice yesterday, for a half-hour each time. Each conversation ended with you saying, “I love you.” Your sideways half-hugs have turned into full embraces.
I can’t adequately express how happy such outward affection makes me.
Remember when you and Grandma made those turkey magnets out of fake leaves and straw? Mine has stayed on our fridge year-round. One of its googly eyes is missing, but its felt feet and ribbon bow tie are intact. On the back, you wrote, “I like you.”
That was progress.
I always loved you. Even when you weren’t speaking to me. Even when you scratched my face out of a family picture. Even when you slammed the door and said, “You’re not my parent.” Even when we fought about school and grades. Even when you were a teenager and didn’t come home and Dad and I stayed up all night scared to death, wondering where you were.
Through the screaming and tears, I loved you. I wanted the best for you. I wanted, more than anything, for you to be happy. Who would have thought it would be your unplanned pregnancy that would have brought us this close, and brought you so much happiness. It’s been wonderful watching you mature, seeing you and your love share such excitement over being young parents.
Our recent outing to get you some maternity clothes was the most enjoyable shopping trip we’ve ever had. There was no arguing about whether something was too short, too tight, or too expensive. You were so grateful, so concerned about the cost.
You call me to ask about nursing, talk about your doctor’s appointments and your fear about the birth process. Our conversations are more fun, more in-depth, and more meaningful.
You’ve grown up so much since I first met you when you were 5, all freckles and crooked teeth and attitude covering up your sadness. Your dad fought so hard to bring you to live with us, and you couldn’t wait. When we showed up at the appointed time, you were sitting on the curb with your grandma, all your belongings ready to be loaded right into the car for the five-hour drive to our house.
You were so excited to move to a new city with your dad. You weren’t quite as excited about having a stepmom.
I never envisioned myself in that role either. But I met your sweet dad and his beautiful daughter, and I never thought twice about bringing you home. I wanted to immediately envelope you in love and make our home yours, this family yours. I dreamed of your future, made plans for you, considered you mine.
At our wedding, I wanted to include a special time to symbolize not only our marriage, but the coming together of this family. I searched for the perfect gift, and when you joined us at the altar, we gave you a silver charm bracelet with three hearts on it – one for each of us – and I promised to have and to hold you, in good times and bad.
There were plenty of both as you and I got to know each other. I think we’ll both admit we’ve survived some tumultuous times, and that we’ve come out stronger and more appreciative of the other.
I had a lot to learn. There’s no stepmom manual, so I did what felt right. I figured if I did all the things with you that I remembered doing with my mom, that it would make us mother and daughter. I bought you my favorite books from my childhood – like “Free to be You and Me,” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” Each has an inscription I wrote and dated, starting with the first Christmas I knew you, the first birthday I celebrated with you. But you didn’t want to cuddle and read with me, didn’t like it when I sang, “Good morning, good morning!” when I woke you up for school.
You never really liked my silly songs, and rolled your eyes at my jokes. You only wanted Dad to tuck you in at night, so I just told you – as my parents did every night when I was growing up: “Sleep tight, see you in the morning, love you, good night.”
You never said it back, but I kept trying.
On every vacation or holiday, I chose a special charm for that wedding bracelet that reminded me of you, of where you were in your life at that time: a scooter, a soccer ball, a sand castle.
I planned birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese and skating rinks, made that Sponge Bob Halloween costume and had your friends over. I cheered the first time you crossed the monkey bars by yourself, took you on your first plane ride, and bought you pads when your period started. I brought you to my office on “Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” went to school conferences, filled your Christmas stockings and Easter baskets with your favorite things, and took you to the orthodontist to get your braces put on.
All these efforts, hoping to prove to you that I really did have your back and find the thing that really connected us.
You were so different from me when I was younger. Slender and naturally athletic, with shiny, long chestnut hair and dark eyes, you’re a natural beauty who fit perfectly in skinny jeans and bikinis. I was a chubby, self-conscious girl who always had to shop in the plus size section and hated buying clothes.
I tried every sport and was more than once voted “Most inspirational,” because I put in such effort without ever really being good. You excelled at every sport you attempted. You ran across the soccer field with such speed I was in awe, and you made the volleyball team even though you had never played before.
And through it all, even our happiest days, you longed for your mom. I wondered, why is all she has with us not enough? Not her own room, decorated especially for her, not the undefeated basketball and volleyball teams, not the BFF she texts with incessantly, not the little brother who adores her.
Even with all the counseling, all the talking, I don’t think I saw things from your point of view as well as I should have. I thought I did, but I learned that I was giving you what I thought you needed, without really knowing what you needed. I’m sorry I didn’t understand it as well as I should have from your perspective. I know how hard it was to be torn between your life here with us and your life there with them. I did the best I could, and I hope you know that. I know you wish you had done some things differently as well.
My heart did ache for you when you asked for your mom during the years she couldn’t be there for you. When you cried endlessly in the car after a visit. And that same heart was truly broken when you left us years later to move in with your mom. We knew you deserved the chance to be with her, but I don’t think you knew how hard it was to let you go, how much I cried at your empty room.
I’m so happy your mom found her way back to you, that she is a strong support and that we all now have a friendly relationship. It means so much to me to be recognized along with her as your baby’s grandma, to have a photo of you standing between your mom and dad from your baby shower.
I know you’re going to be a good mom, because I saw how you were with your baby brother – so tender, so careful, so loving. Being his mom taught me a lot about being a step-parent, like how much those first years matter – years when you had no idea who I was – and how kids become who they are so early in life. And how as much as your heart swells with love for your children, all kids and parents get annoyed with each other sometimes, step or not.
You’ll understand it more when your daughter is here – I think you already do – how our children bring us so much joy, and some heartache as well. Sometimes you’ll want her to do things your way, and she’ll have her own ideas, and you’ll know how your parents felt. It happens to all of us when we grow up and look back.
We can’t wait to meet our granddaughter in just a matter of hours. I will hold her and squeeze her and tell her, “Sleep tight. See you in the morning. I love you. Good night.” Maybe you’ll start saying it to her too.
And you can call me when she’s a teenager.
I love you,
Katherine (AKA Grandma)
EPILOGUE: I sent this to my stepdaughter and she said it was OK to post. And she wrote me the best note:
“I’m sorry for the bad times. I didn’t realize what I had was good. I am so grateful that you were/are in my life because my life would be completely different if you weren’t there. Thank you so much for being there when my mom wasn’t. And still being here for me after it all.”
On the last Mother’s Day I spent with my mom, I gave her a keepsake box, with a Maya Angelou quote on top:
“We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends, and living our lives.”
That box now sits on my dresser, holding some of my most precious mementos: photo of my kids, my mom’s charm bracelet, the hair clips my stepdaughter and I wore at my wedding.
On Mother’s Day 10 years ago, my husband gave me a jar of baby food. We had just learned that I was pregnant a few days earlier. Yesterday that little baby scored a couple runs at his baseball game and a touchdown at flag football. Today he gave me a handmade card:
“Thank you for being so supportive of me, caring for me, and giving me so many opportunities though my years so far. I know how hard it is to take care of a kid, so I just wanted to say thank you for everything you have done.”
That one’s going in the box.
And my beautiful stepdaughter is about to have a daughter herself. She was the first one to make me a mom when she came into my life 15 years ago, and soon she will make me a grandma.
That Maya Angelou quote is fitting for this holiday, which is wrapped in so many memories and emotions. On this day reserved for Moms – who, let’s face it – will still be doing laundry or changing diapers, packing lunches and checking homework – we all have reasons to celebrate, and reasons to mourn.
Many of my friends are without their moms today too, some for the first time. And there are the heartbroken moms who have lost their children and women who long for babies of their own.
This Mother’s Day, I had brunch with my husband and son. They toasted me and gave me flowers, and I felt their appreciation. Thanks, guys. I love you.
And I thought about my mom, of course, because so much of who I am today I owe to her, and I will always miss her. I thought about all the strong women in my life who are mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, stepmothers, mothers-in-law, aunts, single moms, nieces, cousins.
As we make our way through this life, becoming mothers and motherless, I will take Maya’s words to heart.
A girl has a bigtime crush on my 9-year-old son. She is cute, smart, and funny, with a bit of attitude and a bold streak. She has not been subtle about her feelings for him.
She has recited a poem to him, rushes to sit with him on the bus, and talks to their classmates about how cute my boy is. Other times she chases him around the playground and they pretend to hate each other, because, well, they’re third-graders.
I admire her confidence and find the whole thing pretty adorable. I’ve known this girl for a couple of years and her mom for much longer. I like this girl. My son likes her. But he is not ready for this talk about “liking” someone.
“We are in elementary school!” he says emphatically when the subject comes up. “El-e-men-tar-y school.”
I agree with him. I’m glad he can be friends with girls and boys, and I told him no matter how he feels, to always be nice to her. (“Obviously, Mom!”) I don’t want her feelings hurt. Kids aren’t always kind, and boys don’t always express their emotions in the best way. I think my son has a good handle on the situation, and I predict they’ll be friends for a long time.
But I remember how those crushes go. Don’t we all? Even as adults who have survived actual heartbreak and real relationships, we remember those childhood hurts.
The boy I was in love with when I was 9 presented me with a palm branch at church on Palm Sunday and asked me to marry him. I was over the moon. I kept that branch, that token of his undying devotion, until it was brittle and brown. We flirted off and on for a few years, but as childhood romances go, nothing else ever happened and I was crushed when his crush subsided.
(I’m happy to report that we are still friends all these years later and he is happily married to his husband.)
I remember those feelings that you don’t really understand but that you can’t avoid when you’re just a kid. Palm branch boy broke my heart for a minute, and I did the same thing to another boy.
He was a bit of a nerd, super smart with curly hair and rosy cheeks. He always wore turtlenecks and his favorite thing to do was study ancient Egypt. He was intelligent, nice, and made no secret of how much he liked me.
He wrote me notes and complimented me. One year he drew my name for a class holiday gift exchange and I remember him literally squealing with delight. He gave me a perfume and powder set. The powder came in a bright green plastic apple and the perfume in a bottle shaped like a turtle. It was a much nicer present than kids usually exchanged.
Our school took an annual trip to the roller rink, which was a highlight of the year. And there was always the “snowball dance,” when they would dim the lights, turn on the disco ball, and skaters would make their way around the rink holding hands. (I know this would never happen in elementary school today, but it was the ‘70s.)
The boy approached me in front of all my friends and asked me to skate with him. I was interested in this hand-holding idea, but I wasn’t so sure about doing it with him.
I said no.
He looked grief-stricken. It took him a lot of guts to come up and ask me, and I rejected him. My friends giggled as he walked away. I have felt bad about it for decades.
After that, we didn’t talk much, and the next year we went to separate schools. I saw him again when I was a senior in high school when we shared a class together. I said hi, but neither of us initiated any more conversation. I feel bad about that too. It seems like it was up to me.
Who knows if he even remembers me or this slight that haunts me. I have Googled him a few times – he has a distinctive name, so I thought he’d be easy to find somewhere. But I have never located him. I don’t know what became of him and his life, but I imagine he’s successful, and I hope he’s happy.
I’d like to tell him thanks for asking me to skate. Thank you for the gift and the notes. Thanks for thinking I was special. I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.
But you know, we were in elementary school.
(Do you have a story about a childhood crush? I’d love to hear it in the comments. And if you liked this post, feel free to share it.)