An Angel On Her Shoulder, selected passage

I had prepared for the death of my mother for years, and yet when it came, when I returned to the church I grew up in and saw her gold colored coffin, when I heard her favorite song, the Ave Maria, being sung… I cried like a baby.

I sobbed uncontrollably and unashamedly.

I wept in front of my family, my friends, and my God.

My young wife, sitting next to me, was unsure of what to do except pass me tissue after tissue and hold my hand.

I was overwhelmed. My mother was gone.

I would never again be able to buy her some salt water taffy from the state fair. I couldn’t spontaneously call her up at Christmas just to get the names of the Three Kings. I couldn’t pop in for a quick weekend visit on my way to some fun, great, other place.

I couldn’t do any of those things, ever again.

And I was unprepared for the emotions I would suddenly have from out of nowhere, things people would innocently say or do in passing, or random objects that would remind me of her, plunging me back into that cold gothic church in Ohio, where I would again stare at that quiet gold coffin in the dim glow of candles. That box now held for eternity a person who had influenced my own life in so many huge and positive ways, and who now would play no role in the upbringing of my daughter.

It was a shame that Savannah would never know her grandmother. They had never met. Mom died years before Savannah was born.

And yet, they had a commonality…

I saw it in the delivery room when she was born. The first time I saw the face of my newborn daughter, I remember thinking that she looked like a combination of an old man’s face and my mom’s.

My wife didn’t care much for that description…

Then the routine doctor’s exam of the baby found a rare and potentially fatal heart condition; one that no doctor could ever have heard through a stethoscope – and yet this doctor did just that. He felt there was something not quite right with my daughter’s heart. Tests confirmed his uncanny suspicion – and off to the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit we all went.

Then, as my daughter, just 24 hours old, clung to life in the NICU, I felt a presence that I had not felt before.

At a time when I should have been terrified, I was strangely calm.

My dad, also a physician, said it was a miracle. That there had been an angel on the doctor’s shoulder that day, whispering in his ear. If we had taken my daughter home, she might have died with no warning, like so many others with the condition.

We were lucky. There was an angel on the doctor’s shoulder that day.

And I would eventually come to learn who that angel was.

A Quick Trip To BuyMart, continued

 The next clerk pointed to the end cap by a wall display. “We have some dance leggings and tights right over there,” she says, pointing to a big pink poster of a girl doing ballet. Bingo.

 Ignoring the rubber boots that have now made their way into our cart, I push Savvy over to the wall display. Here, we have several shelves of pink, black, and white leggings, some t-shirt looking things, some body suit looking things, some tights… and they are all in thick cellophane packages labeled with tags that have no sizes on them, just a mysterious secret code of letters and numbers.

 I shuffle through a few of them. The pictures on the front all look alike – just like the poster: a pink ballerina. Completely unhelpful. I make a mental note to complain to the manufacturer if I survive this shopping trip. The back of the package, however, has a small drawing of the garment inside. We have choices of a t-shirt with built in pants, like a 1-piece bathing suit with short sleeves; there is a similar shirt with long sleeves… a scuba suit-looking thing and some other stuff.

 The girls in the Olympics wore stuff with short sleeves or no sleeves, I think, but probably any of these will be the right thing. And although these aren’t shiny, I think they’ll be fine. They’re just temporary anyway. There’s just one thing to do.

 Call my wife.

 There’s no way in hell I’m buying any of these without a little guidance; that way we can share the blame if I get it wrong. But more importantly, I really have no idea what size I should get. A quick glance down the back of my daughter’s t-shirt shows that she, like her father, doesn’t like tags and they have been removed. So I make the call to Michele.

 She doesn’t answer.

 Hmm… okay, no problem. Worst case scenario, I can have the kid start trying these things on, and eventually one will fit. But that really is a worst case scenario, because I don’t want to go to the dressing room and I really don’t want to have to make her try on a dozen outfits. Neither one of us is going to be patient enough to get through that without crying.

 Then, I get an idea. If I can decide on a style, I’m halfway home. I don’t care about what color the thing is; we have already decided that this one is temporary anyway. It can be any color, but black seems pretty dance-y to me. Probably not best for gymnastics. None of the things are shiny, so that isn’t an option… Pink? Maybe. Not white; too much like underwear.

 Pink’s a good gymnastics color, I think. The best of the three, anyway. But I will go with any color in a garment that actually fits my daughter and look even remotely leotardish.

 I stare at the display. There are still a lot of choices here. Different shirt styles, different sizes… even if I just go with pink, I still have quite a few decisions.

 Another good option, I decide, is to buy a few of all of them. That way, we will definitely have one that’s right, and we can return the rest. That sounds even better than going to the dressing room. It’s overkill, yes, but it can also be our last resort option.

 Good. Now we are getting somewhere.


@savvystories on Twitter

(one day I will learn to add buttons for those)

what is cancer

“What is cancer, Daddy?”
What? Where did THAT come from?
“What did you say, honey?” I ask.
“What is cancer?”
She’s three. Three and a half, really, but much too young to be asking about that…
“Well,” I begin… “There are these tiny little things like building blocks called ‘cells’ in your body, that make up every piece of you body. You have skin cell building blocks and bone cell building bocks. Hair cell building blocks. Sometimes the building blocks go wrong and cause problems. Cancer is like that, and the cells go wrong and hurt the part of the body they live in.”
“Do I have cancer?”
“No, honey, you do not.”
I didn’t say: You have something that may be much worse. You have Long QT Syndrome, which kills more kids each year than all children’s cancers combined.
With proper diagnosis and beta blockers most LQTS is well controlled. The experts say she has the ability to live a long happy life like anybody else.
But once you hear those words, you are changed forever.
Everybody knows about cancer. When the doctor says the words I’M SORRY BUT YES YOU HAVE CANCER – you don’t hear much after that. What you heard was “I am going to die.”
I should know. A doctor said those words to me once.
When the doctor says “Your child has a rare but potentially fatal heart condition called Long QT Syndrome, which usually has few or no symptoms and many times the first sign of it is sudden death…”
You hear: fatal heart condition…sudden death…
As you try to focus, the echo of the words “no symptoms” come to you…
No symptoms?
How do I fight a monster I cannot see? How do I protect my baby?
And she WAS a baby at the time. About 24 hours old. As vulnerable as they come.
It changes you, but you can decide to eat the bear or have the bear eat you. Some people let the bear eat them. They don’t know it, of course; they just shut down a little at a time until one day they do not even recognize the life they used to have, allowing fear to run them instead of living. Sometimes they wake up and grab life back. Sometimes they shrink away. I understand, but I could not allow that to happen. Not to a life that had yet to even be started.
That day, I was afraid, lost confused, alone… weak. But only because I did not know what I was up against. How do I eat the bear? I decided to become an expert on LQTS to the best of my ability, see experts, attend medical symposiums, and learn how I would protect my daughter and teach her to protect herself, until I can dance at her wedding and see my grandchildren born. Maybe more.
And I did. I have. I am.
It is three and a half years later, and that bright little girl has taken it upon herself to ask about a commercial she saw on TV, about some sort of cancer; I missed it – it was probably a anti-smoking campaign. So we had a brief discussion about cancer, and then she ran off to play with some Play-Doh.
But we WILL have the other part of that conversation one day.

For more amazing cuteness from my 4 year old daughter and the rest of her hilarious family, check out my Savvy Stories book series here. (Book two is on sale today)


As a married guy with a kid, I was still on time for a few things, and reasonably late everything else. Shopping should be no different, I rationalized. It takes longer than it used to, but I should be able to get in and out without too much fuss.
Maybe not; that’s how she got the monkey pillow. Friends said not to go down the toy aisle with a loaded child.
But this was a just simple errand: we… signed the kid up for gymnastics class; maybe we should get some of the clothes they wear in gymnastics.  Fine. And I had even seen some of that stuff because when Olympics is on every four years, we watch the gymnastics part. The girls wear leotards – I knew that.
What I didn’t know was where you buy leotards. And where you can get them on short notice. The wife had made her additional suggestions, but the fastest route would be to try BuyMart, and if they had leotards, we would be done and they wouldn’t be too expensive. I agreed with her other point, too; I didn’t see a lot of benefit in spending big bucks over a class that our daughter might quit in two weeks. I’m not cheap; I spent a zillion dollars on Christmas toys that she didn’t play with. So I’m learning.
BuyMart isn’t too far from the house, so we get there in no time. We have one thing to buy, and only one thing: a leotard, and if they don’t have an official one of those, a cotton Danskin kind of leotard looking thing. At least, that’s what they called them when I was in school; I don’t know what they call them now.
We head to the ladies wear department, and pass through that to the kids’ department. Scanning, scanning, I glance around for a big leotard display. Failing that, I look for a clerk to help me. Savvy is patiently riding in the shopping cart, amusing herself. There’s nothing she really wants in this department, but that doesn’t stop her from grabbing packets of socks off the racks as we wheel by, and dropping them into our cart – and on the floor. I find a clerk. I always ask the clerk, who is wearing a blue BuyMart smock and a BuyMart nametag, if she works there. I have been accosted by many people in stores over the years because I walked in wearing a dress shirt and tie and they thought I was the manager. It’s not helpful when you’re in a rush, but it can be fun to direct them to the wrong aisle on purpose and then see their reaction when they start to get mad and realize you don’t even work there.
It’s fun for me.
But I don’t want to waste time with that today, and I don’t want to bother a woman wearing tan khakis and a blue pull-over shirt if she doesn’t actually work at BuyMart. Sometimes, they don’t. Folks wearing red shirts don’t always work at Target, either. You have to be careful.
“Excuse me,” I said, “Do you work here?”
Until that moment I had never thought about how possibly insulting it might be to imply that the blue smock might be mistaken for a part of a person’s actual wardrobe. The clerk shrugs it off.
“I need to find a leotard or some kind of dance clothing for my daughter,” I continue, motioning to the cart where Savvy has now started grabbing mini umbrellas off the shelves. Ignoring that, I go on. “Where would I find something like that? It’s for her gymnastics class.”
The clerk directs me to the end of the long display and begins to picks up all the umbrellas on the floor. I helped pick them up, too; I’m not an animal. Then we were off to what appeared to be the dancewear section.
There wasn’t much there, but it was next to the underwear section, so it seemed like we were getting close. I looked around for another clerk while Savvy loaded our cart with bras.

The reply from my Facebook friends was swift: “Savvy can NOT wear a swimsuit to gymnastics class.”

Well, I should say that the responses from my female friends was swift; I’m not sure my guy friends even had an opinion, and one or two may have sided with me. But fair enough. I know when I’m outnumbered. But if BuyMart didn’t have them, I was screwed. It could turn into a whole long ordeal of shopping, driving from store to store… BuyMart had to come through for me. But there were problems with going to BuyMart.

 Not like the problems we’d had going to Publix; those scars have yet to fully heal, but BuyMart is a different animal. Going to BuyMart used to be easy. And fast.

 There was a time when I was able to run right in, get my stuff, and leave, no muss, no fuss. I was probably single back then, when I could do that.

 As a married guy, it became only slightly more involved. I would usually text or call the wife and say, “Hey, I’m going at BuyMart; do you need anything?” Usually she would reply with a simple “No; thanks for asking,” but that call might also result in a few items being added to my shopping list, or maybe a bunch of stuff.

 If it was a bunch of stuff she wanted and I was in a rush, I just lied and said they didn’t have it. Don’t judge me.  But since becoming a parent, or more accurately, since becoming Savvy’s Dad – my new identity; I’m no longer Dan, I’m just Savvy’s Dad. I’m Savvy’s Dad, her chauffer, her chef… her butt wiper… some identity.

 Well… she has two chauffers and butt wipers…

But as Savvy’s Dad, it is a longer trip around BuyMart, and it doesn’t often go as planned. Stupidly, I keep planning on running in and just getting my stuff and running out. I haven’t been able to do that since, oh, three and a half years? You’d think I’d wise up.

 It’s like my joke about being punctual. I like to say that I was usually on time when I was single; when I got married, I ran about 15 minutes late all the time. Add a kid into the equation and all bets are off. I may not show up at all, and I won’t have a good explanation. When you see me a few days later, don’t ask me what happened; I won’t have any idea. I had a plan, I started to execute the plan… then something happened with the baby. Next thing you know, it was four hours later. With kids, stuff just happens.

 When Savvy was little, the interruptions – train derailments, really – were things like unscheduled bottle breaks or diaper changes. We’d be on our way out the door, about 15 minutes late, and Savvy would start crying for a bottle. Well, ya gotta feed her. So that takes a few minutes. We didn’t usually do it in the car because those car seats are crazy difficult to remove when a kid throws up on them. I’d rather be another 15 minutes late than spend the rest of the day hosing down the inside of the car. Then, we’d get her fed and be almost out the door, and she would need a diaper change. Can’t have her sitting in that uncomfortable mess for our drive, so we’d change her. Sometimes a diaper change necessitates a clothing change – maybe for the baby, maybe for you – so there’s that. Things can get messy for all involved, with some of those diaper changes. And about that time you really start to weigh whether you want to go to this party or whatever anyway. A nap is starting to sound pretty good… But you regroup, pile into the car, and start driving – and the kid zonks out. When you finally arrive, everybody wants to see the baby and, well, the baby is asleep for the next 2 hours.  Around that time you realize, you spent a lot of time getting ready, but nobody would have even noticed if you didn’t shower. You could have showed up without your pants, nobody would care. You are just the baby’s driver.

 And that’s okay. There’s a lot of freedom in realizing that.

 Pants are overrated.


There’s No Such Thing As A Quick Trip To BuyMart

“Savvy needs a leotard for her gymnastics class.”

I wonder if every conversation between a husband and a wife starts with a statement by her, followed by a question from him.


“A leotard,” my wife explained. “Savvy needs one for her gymnastics class tomorrow. Can you pick one up for her?”

I wonder if every family task starts with the wife procrastinating until the last minute, followed by a frenzied panic for the husband to complete the task before the looming deadline. And taking the blame if the task fails.

I had absolutely no idea, zero, as to where to buy a leotard, and I said so. I figured Savvy would go to gymnastics class in a t-shirt and shorts. It was good enough for our backyard.

“I’ve been looking at some online,” Michele went on, “but they are pretty expensive. I thought maybe we’d get her a cheap one for a while, to see if she’s going to stick with this gymnastics thing, before dropping $40 on a leotard she’s going to outgrow in three months.”

“What am I supposed to get, and where am I going to find it?” I asked, secretly hoping the emphasis on my lack of leotard knowledge would get me out of this errand. I didn’t want to go shopping, and I definitely didn’t want to go leotard shopping. That sounded like it would involve lots of trying on things in dressing rooms, standing around in the women’s department… These are just not fun things for a guy.

But the deadline was looming and my wife was unexpectedly called into an all-day meeting across town, so she couldn’t do it. It was up to me.

Now, I have no expertise in leotards. I have seen some on the Olympic gymnasts on TV, but that’s about it. And having seen them on TV, I thought that leotards look a lot like… bathing suits! Which we have!

“Can she just wear one of her swimsuits?” I offered, preparing my list of good reasons: we already have swimsuits, they look a lot like leotards, just less sparkly; the other little girls in the class won’t notice… That question was barely out of my mouth when it was immediately shot down.

“She can not wear a swimsuit,” came my wife’s immediate reply, like I was from another planet. “I was thinking BuyMart probably has some sort of Danskins, and that we could probably skate by with that for a few weeks until we see if she’s going to stick with it…”

She went on, but I had tuned out.

I would be taking my daughter shopping.



For more amazing cuteness from my 4 year old daughter and the rest of her hilarious family, check out my Savvy Stories book series here. (Book two is on sale today)