It’s in the Leaves

“Can we play in the leaves, Daddy?” she asks whimsically.

“Sure we can, baby. I’ll get the blower.”

Eyes full of wonder, her mind races as she builds on her request. “Can you make a pile big enough that I can jump out of the window onto them?”

I laugh. As a manchild, I give due consideration. As a father, I respond, “No, I don’t think that would be safe.”

Undaunted, she pokes out her lip as last children often do in an overt attempt to tug at my heart. “Please…”

Why didn’t I do it?

Why did I say no?

We live in the woods. Acres of trees. Why would I ever have turned her down?

I didn’t know what was just on the horizon, just past that season. I didn’t know it was her last healthy fall. I was concerned about her safety. I was worried about what her mother would do to me if her baby broke her leg during a dad-sanctioned event.

I said no.

Soon her leg would hurt on its own, and poison much more dangerous than a jump into a pile of autumn leaves would course through her veins. I should have let her jump before cancer pushed aside those carefree joys of childhood. I should have raked up every damn leaf in the city and made a soft blanket to cushion her fall. Instead I said no.

We are heading into our second holiday season without Kylie. We won’t get a turkey drawn with crayons, and we won’t be recognized as something for which she is thankful. She won’t rush to the fireplace to see the note from Santa or tear through wrapping paper to see what he left. The “wonts” pile up like leaves in the fall, but without their vibrant brown, orange, and yellow hues… without the familiar smell of the season that turns our thoughts toward home. Our “wonts” are black and gray.

The holidays are tough and begin with the changing of the trees. For me, there is symbolism in the process. The leaf springs forth, grows to its proper size and shape before withering and falling to the ground. While the tree remains and grows, that individual leaf is gone. The tree may whisper to future leaves about their predecessors. Maybe a tree keeps a record of its life deep within its bark so it can boast of mighty branches and remember leaves that fell to earth prematurely. We will have to do that. Our family tree will grow to include branches that never knew Kylie – never saw her smile, never heard her sing. They will know her only through our stories and memories. That saddens me.

It’s the leaves.

You ask me what challenge comes with the season, and I answer that it is the leaves. They bring this season. They usher in Halloween with its costumes and candy and they warn us of what is coming: Thanksgiving and Christmas. I blame the leaves and I blame myself sometimes for not building a pile of them and saying, “Anything you want, baby.”

Anything you want.

And so, how will I respond?

I intend on building a massive pile of leaves and throwing caution to the wind. I will jump. I will invite others to join me. And I will live fully until it is my time to wither. Then the tree can tell its stories, but I will be gone with her — slaves to the wind and rain no more.


*I wanted to store this here on my blog. It was originally written for The Mighty as a response to the question: “For those who are grieving, what challenges come with the change in season?”

My Movie Ban

Aren’t memories a lovely thing? Isn’t it amazing how we can sanitize them so that as we look back, the waves of time have washed over our lives and we recall only the good ole days? Even in the best of times, there had to be negative emotions, hurt feelings, or repressed fears. Yet through the Pollyannaish lens of the mind, most of those evaporate until we look back with dopey, satisfied grins at simpler and happier times.

Unless you have children to remind you.

In my memories, our children are all happy, well-adjusted, curly-haired imps who look at me in love and awe as I made all the right decisions and led the family on daring adventures and fantastic voyages.

In the drama of their minds, I play the part of a bumbling clown – Dick Van Dyke tripping over ottomans. While I remember sunshine and rainbows, they recall falls from horses, near drownings, and being afraid of monsters from stories I told because evidently I was a whooping maniac who hurled them into the deep end of the pool while I laughed sadistically from the shallow end where my feet always touched.

I don’t think they truly remember it that way, but they sure do seem to revel in the faults and foibles of the patriarch. They have passed through the childhood Land of Perfect Daddy and into the demilitarized zone that borders adulthood. At times, they demonstrate against the SDDS (Socialist Dumb Daddy State) where loud speakers boom amplified messages of all dad’s mistakes as propaganda to the less informed.

This Christmas, the wayward two were home from college and I was hobbled by a bum ankle which left a great deal of down time during which we watched old home videos and reminisced. And then I had the unmitigated gall to suggest a movie which brought up all the scars I had inflicted with my movie choices. In my defense, there was no PG-13 when I was young, so cursing was more readily acceptable in PG movies. Who knew the profanity that would assault their tender ears during Harry and the Hendersons? I only recalled a sweet sasquatch.

I do not qualify as guidance


I also had no idea the pain and trauma Jumanji would inflict. Nightmares of monkey boys affected sleep patterns for years. After that, their mother, who acts as the propriety police in all the lands of daddy, instituted a five-year movie ban and no longer allowed me to suggest movies from my childhood.

Just when it finally lifted, I made a new, holiday suggestion: Christmas Vacation.

Before you go saying, “I love that movie,” chances are you love the sanitized TBS version – which is all I have ever seen. Clark’s profanity-laced tirade in the theater edition might shock and surprise you. It did me… as I lay helplessly on the couch, knowing I had blown it… again.

Although I am sure my kids hear worse at their schools daily, the little covert operatives assumed the roles of prim saints in a tabernacle choir and acted shocked and morally compromised. It was quite a performance. They choked back evil grins and banded together while their mother issued a new movie ban… another long five years.

I get out in 2021.


What movies did you remember as clean and wholesome only to realize too late they were not?