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A Day With My Goddaughter


"Yes, Belle?"

"Would you ask my dad to take a picture of us when we get home? With my new camera? I want to put it in my album."

This was my 8 year old goddaughter's question to me as she and I were coming back from our 'date' together, the day after this Christmas. It meant the world to me for her to ask this since it told me all I needed to know about how she felt spending time with me. Not always being comfortable around younger children (I generally run out of things to say after three or four minutes), this told me our time together had met with her approval. It could have gone either way, however. Christmas Eve night, Belle had just gone through a emotional event: her hamster, Pudding, had died and, of course, she was upset. But now, here we were, tired but happy, with Belle holding a tooth in her hand that she had warned me might be coming out. "Godpoppa, I've got a loose tooth and I think it might fall out before we get back home."

On Christmas Day I came up with the idea of Belle and I spending at least one day a month together. Having just permanently moved to Boulder Creek, CA, from Washington State, it felt like the perfect time to do this. It had been so hard to watch Belle grow up for her first eight years and not be a larger part of it. I had done my best to fly down from time to time, but it was difficult to just pop in and pop back out again. Besides, I took my godpoppydom seriously and had always wanted to be more a part of her life. So, while I knew her parents would both be excited and supportive of my idea, I thought it would be proper to ask. Christian, her dad, was completely on board as well as her mother, Emily. But as I was asking her mother, Belle, who has the hearing of an elephant from a distance of up to 100 miles, came over.

"Are you talking about me?" she asked.

"Yes, Belle, can I ask you something? Now that I live so close, I've been thinking that it would be fun for the two of us to spend some time together. Maybe once a month? I would really enjoy doing that. What do you think?"

"What about tomorrow?" she asked without hesitation and while I was hoping for more time to brush up on my eight year old conversational skills, I replied, "of course, what time would you like me to pick you up?"

"Ten o'clock," not missing a beat. "Can we go to lunch?"

"Yes," and she gave me a hug.

"And can I get another hamster?"

"Sure," and the most wonderful hug/smile followed. We were off to a good start.

When I picked her up the following morning, she was all ready to go. In fact, her father had texted me earlier that Belle had set two alarms on her new watch, just to make sure she would be ready. "I haven't eaten anything this morning, godpoppa, because I know we'll be going to Chipotle for lunch. I also know what I'm going to have."

"What, Belle?"

"Godpoppa, it's a kid's meal with a cheese quesadilla, rice and chocolate milk, if they have it. Sometimes they're out of chocolate milk."

"Isn't that what you had the last time the last time I was here?"

"Yes, I always have that. It's really good."

The problem was when we got to Chipotle at 11 a.m., the doors were locked and there were no signs of activity in spite of the posting that they opened at 10:45.

"I'm not sure what to do, Belle," I told her.

"I like Starbucks," she answered and off we went, where again she knew exactly what she wanted: a birthday cake pop (strawberry), an iced lemon cake and a lemonade. "I like sour things," she told me as she sipped her drink.

It wasn't on the itinerary, but I thought as long as things were going so smoothly and Costco was five minutes away, I'd ask if she'd ever been to the Santa Cruz Costco. I had some wine I wanted to pick up for New Years.

"Oh, yes," she answered, "they have churros."

"Cheetos?" I said.

"Churros," she told me.

"Cheerios?" I asked.

"No, godpoppa, CHURROS," she repeated (rather firmly, I thought). "They're long bread sticks made from cinnamon and sugar and they're SO good."

Well, score, I thought. I'll be able to get my wine and she'll get her churros. "Do you think I should text your mom and ask her if we should bring some home for your sisters?" Belle thought I should, so I texted Emily,. "Absolutely," she texted back in about a nano second, "and as long as you're at Costco, would you mind getting............? So, about 45 minutes later, there I was pushing a shopping cart filled with Belle, my wine, a 35 pound bag of dog food, Anne's Macaroni and Cheese, some pasta, four dozen eggs and a bag of popcorn, about Belle's size, that she was holding and stroking affectionately. It was clear that bag would not be making it all the way home. "Do you still want the churros?" I thought it logical to ask. Instead, however, I received a quiet stare and piercing 'duh' look that let me know, for someone my age, I was even slower than she had originally thought. So, humbled, I loaded the car with the wine, the food, my goddaughter and three warm churros that made the car smell like a delicious doughnut.

"OK, Belle, let's go get your hamster," and off we went to PetSmart. "What are you going to name it? What about Churro?" I thought I'd venture into the hamster naming business. Plus, I felt this was an extremely clever name, given how much Belle loved Churros and the fact that we now had three of them sitting in the back seat.

"Well, that's nice, godpoppa," she answered with a sigh, "but I want to stay in the P's. My first hamster was Potato Ketchup, the one that just died was Pudding, so I'll probably go with Popsicle. It just makes sense." Yep, it sure did. And who was I to argue with that kind of logic?

Belle took my hand as we walked into the pet store and it made me feel good when her little eight year old hand felt its way into mine. It was confirmation of our day and possibly even a silent admission of an emotion she was feeling with the loss of her Pudding. In the span of little over a year, she had said goodbye to two hamsters, both from the same store. As soon as we got inside, however, she let go of my hand and went right to the hamster section which, from past trips, she knew exactly where it was. "Let me see if I can get some help," I told her, but she already was focused on a brown and white one that, 15 minutes later, she was holding lovingly before the clerk put Popsicle into the carryout box. And as we walked out of the store, I could tell I was in the presence of one experienced and very happy hamster handler.

I'm leaving it up to Belle as far as what to do for our next outing. I told her that maybe we could enjoy a movie, a kid one, of course, not violent, but we'll have to see. I'll bring my grownup conversational skills with me this time, however, and whatever we choose to do, will be the right thing. I'll also relax more into the time we are together. Then, as the years pass and she, hopefully, does not outgrow me, we'll both come to realize that for Christmas 2021 we gave each other a gift that could never be found under a tree and could only be unwrapped by opening the heart. Now, that's a gift!


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