Fourteen years ago – specifically, just after 4 p.m. EDT and immediately following a Harrison Ford interview airing on the in-room hospital television – I became a dad.
And just about every day now I experience a moment or two of that amazement and pride and wonder – regularly spiced with a bit of bizarre humor and light sarcasm – which Kelsey brings to our lives. (Also, if she wasn’t around, our Rock Band-ing would be severely lacking in the drums department.)
So if you happen to see her today, feel free to wish her a Happy Birthday, and tell her I said Thank You.
I was reading to my daughter Kelsey since before she was born. We’ve covered a lot of ground together, from the neighborhoods of Richard Scarry’s busy world to the road that passes through a Phantom Tollbooth. Been beneath the Misty Mountains with a certain Hobbit and ridden the train to Hogwarts over and over again.
As she grew into an independent reader, I loved suggesting books to her like Donuthead, Whales on Stilts and Zoe’s Tale. Of course, she also found a ton of stuff on her own, and has shelves full of books in which I have no interest at all – and that’s more than OK. The fact that she’s piling them up at all is fantastic.
All this is part of the reason why writing my latest GeekDad post brought me a really special kind of joy, not because it’s about a couple books I really enjoyed, but because this time around, the books were Kelsey’s discovery, and it was my turn to say, “Hm. Okay,” and then, later, “Wow! Thanks!!!”
They get some prime real estate on the memory shelf.
Last week, Kelsey was on the floor of our library, leaning forward onto her fingertips and using all her weight to push a state quarter into its spot on our collector’s map.
It was Oklahoma: the last quarter we needed to finish the 50-coin set.
Hawaii had gone in just a minute before: I’d gotten our final two quarters a couple days earlier, but the Aloha State had spent a day sitting on a bookshelf while we looked for the folder. (We hadn’t added to the collection in months, and the thing had gotten tucked into an almost-completely-hidden corner of the library shelves, taking us a day to find.)
It hasn’t been a crisp, minty-fresh folder for a long time. The edges are banged up, the front and back covers are lumpy from the mashing of coins into the circles, and there are stains on one corner that I’m pretty sure are leftovers from one of our cats spraying it years ago.
But as a map, it holds up in the important ways.
Kelsey turned two in March 1999, the year the state quarters program began. She and Jenn and I lived in Florida, and I was working in the ad dummying department at The Orlando Sentinel. We had a house with a bright blue front door and three cats.
“Wow,” I remember telling Jenn, “she’ll be almost 12 by the time we can get all these.” Picturing myself as Dad to a near-teenage daughter was pretty much impossible. (And yes, some days, it still is.)
I don’t remember when exactly we got this collector’s map, or who bought it for Kelsey, or even if we received it before July of that year, when we uprooted ourselves and moved here to Ohio and I took my first full-time writing job as a reporter in Warren.
I do remember, though, putting those first couple quarters in – Delaware, Connecticut, Pennsylvania – and thinking that there sure were a lot of spaces to fill and that 2008 was unimaginably distant.
I’m glad we built the collection on happenstance, and that it was never a full-on obsessive quest. If we happened to get a quarter we didn’t think we’d seen, we’d bring it home to check its spot on the map. We’ve never gone out to a bank and asked for a specific quarter, or gone on eBay or visited a coin shop to fill a spot. All these quarters came to us while we were just going through life and getting change.
We were always a bit behind because of that, usually completing one year’s quarter series long after the calendar had flipped to the next one, but we also never completely lost track of where we stood.
Still, even as the quarter-sized holes on the East Coast and the Midwest started to fill in, there always seemed to be an awful lot of space left.
Grades went by, jobs changed, quarters were added. But there always still seemed to be an abundance of spaces remaining.
It was only this spring, I think, when we put New Mexico in its place, that we noticed how close we were to completing the set.
My memory is not good enough to fully complete the connections of time and situations – I don’t think of Kelsey starting kindergarten the year Ohio’s quarter came out, or look at North Dakota and attach it to her last year in elementary school.
But because the coins’ states and distribution years are color-coded on this map, I do have a kind of general emotional memory of the eras: The small, irregularly-shaped patches of yellow, deep blue and dark green on the East Coast trigger a sense of a long time ago, when Kelsey was little. The turquoise and lavender and magenta in the Midwest make me think of elementary school and crayons. The wide, contrasting swaths of lighter blue, deep gold, pale green and rust red-orange out West strike me as time passing in chunks larger than I want.
We went to a high school football game Friday night, the day after we completed our quarter collection. And at this point, I know better than to expect she’s going to sit with me for more than a couple 30-second moments in between hanging out with her friends and enjoying the fall evenings under the lights.
But I also know what kids’ shows she still secretly records to watch when she’s by herself, and what goofy things I can do that still crack her up, even if she’s rolling her eyes at the same time and praying that I NEVER do/say/sing that in front of anyone we’re not related to.
There’s $12.50 in quarters pressed into that cardboard.
It’s clearly worth more.
My daughter and I just got back from taking her new big-kid bike for its inaugural spin.
Three miles total from home to one of her friends’ houses and back. Distance-wise, it’s not far, but we live on a relatively isolated cul-de-sac that’s not part of a bigger development, so once you’re past the end of our street, you pass mostly fields and woods and houses set back a ways. Car traffic tends to move at something beyond that “allotment crawl,” and for the most part, there are no sidewalks.
Funny to think, watching her pedal ahead of me, that this is an adult-sized bike, probably the biggest bike that Jenn & I will ever get her. I mention this to Kelsey while we’re riding, and her response is something along the lines that if that’s the case, it’s awfully cool that it’s purple.
I know I got a speedometer for my coaster bike when I turned 13, but I don’t remember when my riding limits started extending beyond the end of the street. I remember after I got my ten-speed that mom sent me to return a cookie sheet to a friend of hers, in a house we passed about a quarter of the way through today’s ride, halfway to the turnaround point.
We passed a spot where there used to be a barn that a friend and I used to sneak into, and where there was a strange open-seating six-wheeled amphibious craft of some kind. There were also bales and bales of old clothes bound up and stored, and we’d jump onto them from one of the barn’s higher levels, sunlight slanting in through the walls. The barn’s been gone a few years, the fields have closed in around it, and unless you know where it was, you can’t really tell anything’s different.
I’m thinking this summer my daughter will be up to making that ride to her friend’s house without me trailing along to give advice on listening for cars, shifting only while pedaling, and getting in low gear at the bottom of the short-but-steep hill rather than trying to switch halfway up.
There’s certainly more traffic on one stretch of the ride than there was when I was a kid – a housing development replacing a field will do that – but all those houses also mean that traffic’s a bit slower than it used to be. And we did our biking without handy cell phones and the mandatory helmets.
Our ride was sunny and chilly enough for a little windburned feeling, a bit of cold-ear ache, and that hands-thawing-out itch when we came inside.