Archive for the ‘Notes from the Daddy Front’ Category

Hyla is quite happy playing by herself.

Hyla is an only child and, as such, she spends a lot of time on her own. Sure, she has lots of friends but when she comes home at the end of a very long school day (7am – 3pm) she can sometimes be alone for a few hours.

As would be the case with many 10 year-olds, Hyla has developed a rich and fully featured fantasy world. Sometimes she is Witch Hyla, her mischievous alter ego. Sometimes she is Good Hyla and, of course, sometimes she is Bad Hyla. But whoever she is on any given day, it’s all her and it’s all in her mind.

I love to watch her play by herself, immersed in a world of make-believe and oblivious to the fact the she is playing on her own. Blocks, dolls, beads, you name it, they all become characters in her narrative and she just loves to bring them out to play.

At first I used to feel guilty that she was playing on her own and I used to jump in every chance I got. But that’s me projecting my own biases on to her. Every time I check in with her as to whether she’s ok, she always looks up with a bemused smile on her face and says, “Of course, Daddy. Why wouldn’t I be?”

I grew up in a house with 2 sisters and 2 parents which meant that I was never alone for long. As I grew up I noticed that I was much happier in the company of others than by myself and tried to limit the amount of time I spent on my own. That’s because it’s what I knew, what I was used to.

As an adult I became a serial monogamist, moving from one relationship to another. As soon as someone was no longer to be a presence in my life I would go out and meet someone new because the alternative, being alone, felt uncomfortable to me. And these relationships would last anywhere from months to years but I always felt as though that I needed that other person to complete me, to make me whole.

About 10 years ago I had occasion to meet someone who told me that until I spent a significant amount of time on my own – which she defined as 2-3 years – I would never be able to have a whole and healthy relationship. I told her that I couldn’t imagine spending that much time by myself and wondered why anybody would ever want to do that willingly.

I then proceeded to jump into a relationship that lasted 6 years and when it ended a funny thing happened. I didn’t jump in with someone new. I just started to hang out with myself. Over the past 4 years I have had one relationship that lasted about 6 months but that’s been it and I began to notice that a wonderful thing was happening. I was starting to become comfortable with my own company and I was starting to get to know who I actually was.

For so very long I would make my choices based on me being the person that I wanted to be. I would do this or that because it suited my self-image. But when you spend a lot of time on your own you start to notice things, like what you like and don’t like. Your good qualities shine a little more brightly because they’re not diffused by another’s energy and the bad ones also stood out more because there was no one there to dilute their effects.

Suddenly, I was being true to myself. I was no longer making choices based on who I wanted to be but, rather, based on who I actually was. And it was exhilarating. Last year when I met the person that I ended up dating for about 6 months I couldn’t help but notice that I was a different man in this relationship than I had ever previously experienced. Because I knew who I was, I knew what I had to offer and I knew whether it would be a good fit for me. I knew what I was willing to change and what I wasn’t. I kept catching myself saying things to her that I had never said to anyone ever before because it was all coming from a place of self-knowledge.

Now, I never chose willingly to be alone for those 3 years. It just worked out that way. But when I started to date this new person I remembered what that person had told me all those years back about being on your own. I couldn’t see it at the time but it certainly turned out to be both prophetic and true.

Did I not want to be alone because that’s what I was used to growing up? I don’t know. But I do know that Hyla has no trouble at all being by herself and for that I admire her greatly. I think that all the time she spend playing on her own will serve her well and it is my hope that in the coming years that very same quality will help her to know herself better – and thus, to know what she really wants.

Today I both know myself and like myself and that has been an immeasurable gift. How freeing it is to be able to make choices based on self-knowledge and how comforting it is to be true to one’s self. I used to look for my next relationship with a kind of hunger, never really feeling whole with one. Now I’m ok either way. Today I enjoy my own company and have come to really like the various traits that comprise my character.

Hyla may spend a lot of time playing by herself but I’m feeling pretty sure that this will serve her well in life. By spending time with yourself you get to know yourself and once that happens, there’s pretty much nothing that you can’t do.

Stand tall, be true, and be honest with yourself about what makes you tick and playing alone will never seem quite so empty again…


Hyla, like most children, just loves Christmas.

If you’ve never been with a child on Christmas morning then I highly recommend it. It’s a morning filled with delight, discovery and new found treasures. Up at the break of dawn, Hyla made sure that we were all up, too. Doors started to bang. Something “dropped” on the floor. And before we knew it, the whole house was up.

Her Mom said, “We’re going to have a nice breakfast and then we’ll open the presents.” Hah.

If you have children then you know that life is filled with moments when you find yourself wondering just who is the parent and who is the child? If we actually thought that we were going to set the agenda for Christmas morning then we had another thing coming. Breakfast? Hyla had other plans, which, of course, meant that the first order of business was to attack the rather large pile of presents that were stacked under our most beautiful Christmas tree.

We let her dutifully go to the tree and select each present, one at a time. Of course, it came as no surprise that the first present she picked was the one that I have been teasing her about for days.

“What did you get me for Christmas this year, Daddy?” “It’s pink”, I smirked. “What else?” “It’s small.” “What else?” “It has a white circle.” “And?” “It has your name on it.” “DADDY – WHAT IS IT?”

She started to guess. And guess. And guess. This went on for days with me saying “No, no, no” each time. On one guess she actually got it right but there was no way I was going to spoil this surprise, which I was quite proud of.

So, when Christmas morning rolled up I knew for certain which the first gift opened would be. Hyla has been coveting my iPod for years and she has been such a wonderful girl this year (and every year) that I decided it was time to get her one. And there it was, her own Nano, pink with a white circle and her name engraved with a message of love from me on the back.

Squeals of delight, eyes big as saucers and a big kiss and a hug for me. Worth every penny.

Now, what I didn’t expect was the speed with which she moved on to the next present. Maybe I was deluded but I really imagined that she would explore this gift for at least a few minutes before moving on to the next. And the next. And the next. But within ten minutes the pile of gifts under the tree had got smaller and smaller and the pile of paper and ribbons, larger and larger.

When she was done she began to attack the pile of gifts, trying to decide where to focus her incredibly short attention span. A few minutes with Barbie. A song on the IPod. A moment with a stuffed animal. It was an ADD-like orgy of laughing, playing and exploring.

Over the next 24 hours Hyla quickly adopted a toy as her new favourite and would then move on to the next. For those few minutes that toy was the center of her world and then, in the next minute, something new commanded her attention. It was as if the first favourite no longer existed.

Anyone who’s been around a 12-step program will be well familiar with the concept of “one day at a time” or one hour, or one minute at a time. It’s a coping strategy designed to help people who obsess about the future or the past without being able to focus on life’s nexus – the present.

Hyla’s life is all about the moment, whatever that may be. Whatever is in front of her is her whole world and yesterday and tomorrow don’t exist for her. And I find that is one of my biggest challenges – staying in the moment.

When I succeed, I am at my happiest. In the moment, I find that I can extract the most joy out of any situation because that’s all there is for me. When I’m obsessing about tomorrow’s challenges or yesterday’s mistakes I tend to miss out on what’s before me and that’s always where my life is – right there, in front of my eyes.

As adults we have many responsibilities and sometimes it’s impossible not to plan or to consider what the next challenge is. But one of the reasons that I so enjoy spending time with Hyla so much is the way that she forces me into the moment – her moment – and there I am, right with her and there’s nothing else for miles around.

A very wise piece of prose suggests that yesterday’s mistakes are beyond our repair and that tomorrow’s challenges are yet to come and I think that’s true. But how do we stay focussed on today’s events without letting our minds wander? How do we hold true to the moment – whatever that may be?

We can’t abandon our responsibilities but we can stop ourselves from obsessing about them. If we are always focussed on tomorrow’s agenda or on yesterday’s errors then we are missing what’s most important – our lives as we live them. And at the end of the day that’s where we gain the most purchase – in enjoying our plans as we live them, not as we make or regret them.

Whatever the formula, Hyla’s got it figured out and for that I admire her greatly. It’s effortless for her and it makes we wonder how and when I made it so complicated. A child’s world is a simple place and maybe that’s where the answer lies.

For many years, when I was younger, I was a magician and I used to marvel at how easily kids could figure out a trick. They knew the coin was in the other hand but adults were always looking for the trap door, or the mirrors, or the rope and pulley system that made the trick work. The very fact that they made it so complicated made them easier to fool and that’ still true today.

In the New Year I resolve to try and keep it simple, to keep my world free of the clutter of tomorrow’s burden’s and yesterday’s errors. Hyla loves her iPod and when she’s playing with it she’s full of the joy of the moment and for that I envy her greatly. There’s no reason why we can’t keep our lives uncomplicated and clutter free and at the end of the day, we are probably our own worst enemies in that regard.

I will try to keep both feet anchored in today and, if I’m successful, there’s absolutely no reason at all why every morning can’t be as magical as Christmas morning was this year. One day, one moment, one present at a time.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Hyla makes friends in an instant. And not just friends. Best friends. Apparently all that’s needed is age proximity, a willingness to play and somewhat of a joyous spirit and with those things intact she proceeds to bond at a level that has previously taken me years to achieve.

We’ve been down at a resort in the past few weeks and I’ve seen Hyla bond instantly with two sets of friends. One group she met in the pool and then proceeded to play with them morning, noon and night and the other she met over a game of chess on a life size chess board. Within minutes there was laughing squealing and the sharing of the kind of private jokes that you need to be 9 year-old to understand.

I love watching this and I love the joy on her face as she explores these new relationships, discovers new intimacies and forms new bonds.

Hyla is an only child. And, as such, she has learned very well how to entertain herself. Her world is filled with all kind of solitary activities that seems to bring her hours of fun. I really admire her ability to find fun in some of the most mundane things imaginable. A couple of dolls that turn into a coterie of friends, her dog, who becomes an imaginary person and a book that she will lose herself in for hours. It’s a remarkable skill and I hope it will serve her well as an adult.

I really envy her ability to find such joy in these instant unions. As an adult I don’t really make many new friends. Most of my closest friends are people I’ve known for years and those bonds were formed earlier in my life. Occasionally someone comes along who joins my inner circle but it doesn’t happen very often. Most often they become acquaintances or become part of my business network. And I have noticed a new phenomenon where I am making new “Facebook friends” who I share these kinds of intimacies with but whom I’ve never met.

So often when we meet new people we have an agenda. Can they help me in my business affairs? Is there a romantic interest or do we have something else in common that holds our link together? But not Hyla. With her, the friendship is both the means and the end all rolled into one and I find that I’m envying her knack for forming these apparently deep and lasting friendships that seem to bring her so much joy and pleasure.

When did attaching ourselves become so complicated and difficult? How did we lose that ease of playground bonding?

I have many, many acquaintances, even more business contacts but only a very few really close friends. These are the few people who I know I can count on when the straits seem dire and I love them dearly and would do anything for them myself.

When I ended up in the hospital two years ago – in the ICU and literally on life support for several days – there were my two closest friends who stood watch in my room, taking rotating shifts and keeping the rest of my world apprised of my developing condition. They would do anything for me and I, for them, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have such friends who would drop their lives to be there for mine.

Those friendships took years to cultivate and the equity that I built in those friendships took many years to grow. But Hyla has such a pure spirit and such a lack of agenda and in her world you can be her friend if you meet the most basic of criteria.

Now, one may think that these kind of connections do not run deep or may be fairly disposable but the laughter, the whispered intimacies and the pure joy that flows from these links are very real and they make me almost as happy as they seem to make her. I love to watch her play and to explore the boundaries of these new BFF’s and inside I wish I could do the same. I used to be able to do this but as I’ve grown up that ability has faded and has been replaced with a kind of self-protectiveness. I now protect my heart and it takes a fair bit to get me to drop my guard to the point where I let someone into my innermost circle.

But why shouldn’t we have the joy that these unions seem to bring? Why do we deny ourselves that kind of laughter and those same whispered secrets? I think that, once again, I’m going to find myself taking a cue from my 9 year-old sweetie and to try and be more open to the joy that a good friend can bring.

I love my friends dearly and I know they love me and I love the comfort that comes from knowing that they’re there. I would consider myself very lucky to have more of those bonds in my life. It just doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it and Hyla has reminds me of that on a regular basis. Sure, it does take some trust and sometimes that needs to be earned, but when the reward is great the risk often needs to be great, too.

Not too long ago I had a reunion with one of my best friends from my earlier times. We hadn’t seen each other in 25 years and, of course, we just picked up right where we left off. There was such comfort in that bond and I consider myself lucky to have those connections in my life and as I move forward I resolve to not only cherish those kinds of connections but to seek out new ones because they make my life so rich.

Hyla makes instant friends and I’m going to try to expand my world, too. Because at the end of the day the things that matter the most to me are not the things that I own. They are the people who love me and the joy they bring me and I will now measure my wealth not by the balance in the bank but by the number of people who care about me and those that I can now call my friends. Thank you, all of you. You know who you are.

Hyla calls it “Cappuccino Service”.

Kids notice everything. Just when we think that we’ve slipped one by them or did something that went over their heads, they’ll stun us with some prescient observation that lets us know that they’ve missed nothing.

So, I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me when she noticed that at the end of every afternoon, just before dinner, I would trot off to the bar down the way to have my daily cappuccino. And how did I know that she noticed? Well, the other day, around 5 pm, I heard a knock at my door and when I went to open it, there was Hyla with a cappuccino in her hand.

“Cappucino Service!”

She even had my usual two sugars and a stir stick in the other hand just to make the gesture complete. She had pre-empted my own actions by about 15 minutes and the beatific grin on her face told me that she was thrilled to have conceived of this incredibly thoughtful gesture and that she somehow knew that it would make me very happy.

“Look Daddy, I got you a cappuccino!”

It was all I could do not to cry.

There have been a number of times on this trip where I’ve asked Hyla to do something for me. To get me something from the room, to help me find something I’ve misplaced or to go to the lobby for something from the front desk. And every time I do I always feel a twinge if guilt as if I’m exploiting her kindness or her servitude. But every time I ask her to do something for me she leaps to the occasion and not only doesn’t complain, she’s always eager to please.

I remember as a child that I used to have chores around the house. It was always my duty to take out the garbage cans every week, to shovel when it snowed and to clear the table after meals. I used to do these things just because my parents asked me to. It was never any more complicated than that. And pretty much every time I would always go to my parents seeking the approval that would come with a job well done.

And that’s the nature of a child – to seek their parent’s approval and to know that they’re living up to their responsibilities. That they’re growing up. So why was I so surprised when Hyla showed up with a cappuccino, replete with two sugars and a stir stick?

As adults we tend to do things for some reward. If we take an action it’s usually because we either expect something back or want the outcome to somehow how meet our needs. There some adults who do things selflessly but that tends to be the exception and not the rule. We are self-motivated, self-reliant and often selfish. But kids are not built that way. They just want to please, to make us happy, to show us that they’re growing up and they’re able to fulfill some notion of adult responsibility.

In the spirit of the season I am reminded of a very wise man who lived about 2,010 years ago named Jesus. In his Sermon from the Mount (which is recommended reading for anyone who wishes for or needs a guide for living, regardless of your religious beliefs) he says that the only true charity is that which we give anonymously. The act is the giving and that is the reward, not the accolades that often follow. I always admire it when I see on donation lists the usual three or four “Anonymous’” that always head the top. Those are the people who get what it means to be selfless. Who understand why and how we give.

Hyla didn’t get me that cappuccino because she wanted praise. She got it because she knew it would make me happy and that was the reward within itself.

There are some people who practice the act of “paying it forward” or who commit “random acts of kindness” and who do so cloaked in anonymity and I admire that greatly. I was raised with the notion that if we are blessed life then we have an obligation to give something back and in that spirit I have always been a relentless volunteer and I have always found tremendous reward in that. But I also notice that I like the admiration that comes when I tell people about my volunteer activities and I must remember that’s not the point. When I do so I’m diluting the notion of anonymous giving and I must strive to put my ego aside and to let good works speak for themselves.

After watching for my for several days Hyla figured out that my daily cappuccino made me happy and that if she did that for me it would make me even happier. When I was profuse in my thanks she looked puzzled as if it was odd that I would be so overcome. I love her selfless-ness and the purity of her desire to make me happy as if that is both the object and the reward. And as an adult I am now going to try to find these random acts of kindness that I can perform in my life. Selflessly. Because that’s both the purpose and the point.

And the next day when she asked me if I wanted “Cappuccino Service” I didn’t feel that I was exploiting her kindness by asking her to trot way down to the end of the property to get me a cappuccino because I finally understood the true motivation behind her actions. To give just for the sake of giving. To please for the sake of pleasing. That the object is both the purpose and the reward.

And you know what? It was the best cappuccino I ever had.

Hyla never walks in a straight line.

I’ve taken to calling her “Gravel Girl” because when we walk on the sidewalks here she always walks on the gravel that lines the side of the paths here. And not just the gravel. She also walks on the grates, the hills, steps on every post and kicks every stone. Never a straight line. Never.

She is also fond of looking under every rock, examines everything that falls from the trees and finds endless fascination with the tropical wonders of every seed and coconut that comes from above.

I remember my mother telling me that I used to do the same. I would make sure I stepped on every crack in the sidewalk, climbed every hill, stepped in every puddle and explored every snow bank.

When I ask her why she does this she looks at me with a bemused look on her face and says, “Because it’s fun Daddy”. And she’s right. It looks like fun. So, I’ve started to wonder why I always walk in a straight line.

As an adult I always seem to have a destination. If I’m moving it’s usually because I’m going somewhere. And when I’m going somewhere, that’s where I’m going. But for Hyla it’s not about the destination. The fun is in the journey. Every time we have some place to go she turns it into an endless exploration of all that surrounds her. Every bit of stimuli piques her attention and requires further examination.

We live in such a fast paced world. Email. Faxes. Text messages. Phone calls and voice mail. We always seem to have someplace to go and never seem to have enough time to get there. But not Hyla. She delights in the mundane, finds pleasure in every treasure and collects stones, shells and seeds like prizes.

And, of course, I used to do the same. I used to have quite a collection of childhood treasures that others might call junk but to me were as cherished as the material things that I’ve accumulated as an adult. When did all that change? Somewhere along the line I became focussed on the destination and lost sight of the fun of the journey. And that’s why I’m so impressed with her meandering.

Who knows what might be under that rock, in that snow bank or under that puddle? I know it sound mundane but not to her. To her, the world is her oyster and these shells are her pearls.

About three years ago a friend of mine observed that I always seemed to be rushing places, that I moved too fast and that it was exhausting watching me move through life. She suggested that I make a big sign that said, “Slow Down” and that I put it up in my house. And I actually did it. For about four months every time I came downstairs there it was in big bold letters on a big piece of bristle board. “Slow Down”.

They say that you should you be careful what you wish for because you might get it and sure enough, after four months of looking at “Slow Down” I was in a serious accident that cost me most of the use of my left leg. I spent three months in a hospital bed and then another six months in rehab learning how to walk again. During those months, as I moved about in a wheelchair, I sure moved a lot slower and over the next few years as I gradually reclaimed the use of that leg I noticed that not only had this physically slowed me down but that I was calmer, more focussed, and more patient with life’s little annoyances.

Slowly, I came to like the new me. I liked the calm, enjoyed the slower pace and started to notice that I was much more focussed on the journey as getting places began to consume much of my time. In the past six months I’ve shed my cane and crutches and now walk almost normally. I still limp when I’m tired and my running days are behind me but I’m now very mobile and thrilled with my progress.

I thought that my new Zen-like state was complete until I noticed Hyla walking in the gravel and then I realized that even though I’m moving and living more slowly, I’m still about the destination and not the journey. And I think that’s about to change.

Yesterday I walked with Hyla on the gravel and joined her as she walked sideways on the hills and explored every nook and cranny and you know what? I had a ball. We found a salamander under a rock that we played with for about 15 minutes and then we planted a seed that we found, resolving to come back in a year to see if it became a tree. We even found a penny that we also planted because Hyla wanted to see if a money tree would grow. Apparently tonight we’re going to plant a piece of spaghetti to see… well, you know.

I no longer have a sign in my living room and I’ve become much more mobile but Hyla has reminded me that if I do slow down there might be a salamander under that rock and that is a very cool thing, indeed. Today we’re going to walk on the beach and I’ve decided that we’re going to kick at the waves and stop for lots of sandcastles. I’m going try to move even more slowly and to enjoy the journey because life shouldn’t really be about the destination. I’m no longer going to walk in a straight line because now, the journey is going to be much more fun.

And I can’t wait for next year’s spaghetti harvest!

She will only eat white food.

Pancakes, French toast, cereal, pasta, bread, rice, chicken, potatoes. You name it. If it’s white, she’ll eat it. And it’s making me crazy. We’re at a place with a buffet so big that it borders on wasteful and up she goes, plate in hand, searching for sustenance, and back she comes – all white, all the time. From breakfast till dinner it’s a festival of starch.

I’m not actually sure what the appeal is of all this whiteness but it’s as certain as the one exception – chocolate. She will also eat anything chocolate and looks for every opportunity to indulge herself. French toast with chocolate chips, pancakes with chocolate syrup and, of course, chocolate cake.

I’ve tried to explain about the different food groups and why they’re important. I’ve shown her the “food pyramid” and explained why you need this variety. But, no. White and chocolate.

So, I’ve tried to make a rule. First, I set down that at every meal she must eat something with some colour. And let the negotiating begin. “Have a glass of fruit juice”, I suggest, knowing that they have all kinds of fresh fruit juices here. Up she goes and come back with what is, basically, Tang. “Try the watermelon juice”, I offer helpfully. The nose wrinkles. “How about some chopped pineapple and papaya in yogurt?” I try, knowing that if you hide the nutrition in something she likes (and is also white) then she might just eat it.

It’s like when we had to give our dog a pill and hid it in a piece of cheese. Up she goes and comes back with a bowl of yogurt. “Where’s the fruit?” “It’s in there Daddy.” So I take my spoon, and begin the search. I find three pieces of diced melon so small that they almost escaped notice. “It’s got colour”, she announces triumphantly!

At dinner she goes up to the salad bar and comes back with a single piece of lettuce with dressing on it (white ranch dressing, of course). After a while the constant cajoling and negotiating wears me down and I relent to my fallback position – one glass of fresh juice and one item of colour every day. You’d think I was asking her to drink vinegar. And yesterday after the Tang and the piece of lettuce I didn’t even try anymore. She actually wore me down to the point of surrender.

Frankly, what is really making me crazy is that she literally lives in a banana republic. I mean, they have more fresh and cheap fruit here than anywhere I’ve ever been. Most of it was picked in the past 24 hours and is so delicious that I have fruit with every meal and bring back a plate to the room for a late night snack. I love fruit and eat it here every chance I get. It’s one of my favourite things about coming to Panama. The bananas literally grow on the trees outside our room. The papayas are as big as my arm and the melon is so sweet that it could give you a cavity. And don’t get me started on the maracuya. What an amazing flavour.

But Hyla will have none of it. “I don’t like fruit”. How can she not like fruit? Is she really my daughter? I feel like I’ve eaten so much fruit that it’s now in my DNA but it’s clearly not in hers. Bananas – $0.10/pound, papaya – $0.75 and oranges – $2.50 for a 10 pound bag. Fruit heaven. “You don’t know how lucky you are to live in a place that has fruit like this. How can you not like all of this?” She tries to explain that it’s the texture that she doesn’t like but I still don’t understand how she can turn down these amazing flavours. It makes me want to scream.

But, I have gained something from this constant tug war. Hyla, and other children her age, are all about hedonism. If it feels good, they want it. They do everything they can to fill their day with the indulgence of every whim with no regard to balance or consequence. They avoid the unpleasant and constantly seek pleasure and there is a lesson in that for me.

As adults we’ve learned that sometimes things that are good for you aren’t always nice, fun or easy. But we soldier on. Knowing that being responsible means that sometimes it doesn’t always feel good. We do it because that’s just the way it is. But not her. She will go to the most extraordinary lengths to avoid anything that doesn’t make her happy. And secretly, I wish that I could do the same. If white food makes me happy then why not? Who needs all that “yuck” any ways?

Well, we all do and I’m trying to teach her about balance – an important lesson for us all. But when I see the smile that comes with yet another piece of chocolate food I just melt and she knows that she’ll get her way because I have such a hard time being the mean Daddy. I want to be the fun Daddy, the cool Daddy and she knows it and she works it. Yesterday she explained for almost three minutes why white food is actually full of colour because, as I just taught her a few days ago white is a combination of all the colours, she almost got to me to buy into it.

Great. Another lawyer in the family.

So, now, I’m trying a new rationalization – we’re on holiday and who needs all those rules on a holiday? I did promise her mother that I would try to promote the fruit and vegetable thing but this is just making me weary. And I think that the main reason that I just can’t bring myself to enforce these rules is that in my heart, I’m a hedonist, too, and I feel like a giant hypocrite trying to make her do what I wouldn’t want to do myself.

So, we’re off to lunch – spaghetti with alfredo sauce (of course) and I’ll be having the fruit plate. I keep telling her that when she gets older she’ll regret not eating all the fruit that I’m sure she’ll come to love but, for now, it’s all white all the time. And when she looks at me with those big blue eyes and smiles that smile that melts my heart it’s pretty clear that dinner will be fish and rice. And chocolate cake. And I know that she’ll win and I almost don’t care. Because I was her age once and then I only wanted mashed potatoes with every meal.

White is all the colours. Who could say no to that?

I can’t help but admire her because if I was her, I would have tried the exact same argument. She’s got me and she knows it, and for that, I love her all the more.

She just puts things down.

Whenever she’s finished with something – her sunglasses, her hat, her iPod – she puts it down wherever she is and walks away to the next moment that has grabbed her attention.

Not surprisingly we spend a great deal of time looking for stuff. “Where were you the last time you had it?” “I don’t know.” “Think.” I don’t know.” So, far, we mostly find everything but it’s never easy. At first I invested most of our time searching our surroundings like a possessed person. But I have learned that it’s much more efficient to watch her more closely when she’s using one of her oft lost possessions. And when she put its down – on the table, in the bathroom, on the bed – I pick it up and put it somewhere where I know where it is. And then I try to be clever by letting her look around a little before I make the big reveal.

I thought it would teach her to be more careful. Hah. All it did was to teach her to now ask me when she’s lost something. As if I’m now in charge of knowing where everything at every minute of the day. Of course, the alternative is to let her just lose these things, some of which are not only expensive but also precious to the world of a nine year-old. And that’s never a pretty scene. And that’s because there’s no concept of responsibility – only loss. You would think that the pain of the loss would modify her behavior but, no. She still just puts things down.

So I tried something new.

I tried to teach her the concept of place and belonging by showing her that each one of these things has a place where it lives all the time, and every time she finishes with one of these things it always goes in the same place and that way she will always know where it is. So, dutifully, we indentified all the things that go missing regularly and then established homes for them. Especially her new iPod which is oft used, not cheap and much beloved.

So the next day I’m tidying up the room and I notice that the iPod isn’t around. Triumphantly, I seize this moment to re-enforce my point while secretly hoping that it’s not gone forever because I really don’t want to deal with that. So I say somewhat suggestively, “Hyla, do you know where your iPod is?” I am, of course, expecting the usual panicked look of sudden realization of loss. Instead, very calmly, “Of course Daddy, it’s in the place where we decided it lived!” And then she calmly goes over to the suitcase, unzips the side pocket and smugly hoists the iPod aloft.

I am dumbfounded.

When I tried to teach her about place and belonging I thought it would be like many of the other lessons I try to teach. It often takes a few goes before it takes. But when I couldn’t find the iPod I never even thought to check where it was supposed to be because it never occurred to me that it would actually be there. They just keep surprising you like that.

And about the way she puts things down – there’s a lesson in that, too. The reason that she is able to put it down and move on the next location or activity is because children mostly live in the moment. Whatever they are doing at the time is their whole world. Nothing else exists except for that activity and when it no longer holds their attention they simply switch their focus to whatever’s next got their attention. And that part I love. Because it reminds me to try and stay in the moment.

John Lennon said that “life is what happens when you’re busy making plans” and I think he’s right. We become so busy, so preoccupied with what’s next or with what just happened that we miss the here and now. But for Hyla there only is the here and now and there’s a tremendous serenity in all that.

And so, while I love the way she exists for the here and now and how that reminds me to feel, I still wish she would stop putting things down. I’ve already told her that if she loses the iPod she will have to wait till next Hanukah for another one. Next year. A whole year. But that’s not a scene I really want to deal with and the next time I see her put something down that doesn’t belong there I’ll still probably hide it to try and bring the point home.

But secretly it reminds me that sometimes I just want to put something down and walk away. And for that I kind of admire her. So I prod and I hide and I watch and wait. But I know that there will come day where she will better understand time and place and be more responsible about her things. And part of me hopes that day will never come.