Friday, June 01, 2007

The Time of My Life

From James Grippando

Jackie’s on the injured reserve list this week (shoulder), so here I am--the roving naked author--pinch hitting again. Here’s wishing you a speedy recovery, Jackie!

I was hoping for a phone call Thursday night. PMA, the Independent Book Publishers Association, held its annual awards banquet in New York. Each year the Benjamin Franklin Award is given to the outstanding book in various categories, and Leapholes (my first young adult novel) was one of three finalists in juvenile fiction. The call never came, so I’m guessing I didn’t win. But that’s not what this post is about.

Thursday night made me realize what I really love about being a writer—and it has nothing to do with awards. My daughter graduated from the fifth grade. In Florida, middle school starts in sixth grade, so she will be moving on to another school next fall. Kaylee spent 8 years at her elementary school. She started in junior pre-school, when she was just three years old. She literally grew up there.

Thursday night’s graduation ceremony was one of those magical evenings. As each child walked across the stage, he or she would stop for a minute or two, and one of the fifth grade teachers would read a short tribute that summed up each child. It was sweet, and of course there were tears in the audience. But as I sat there listening, the thing that really hit me was that I probably could have written a tribute of my own to every single kid in that grade—all 51 of them. And I could have written those tributes by following one of the basic rules of writing: “Write what you know.”

As long as Kaylee has been in school, I’ve been a writer, and I've lived the writer's life. I started each day by bringing her to school. I’d walk her to class. I stood at her side to pledge allegiance to the flag. I coached her soccer team. When she dumped soccer and tried basketball, I coached that team. When dance became her passion . . . well, I can't tell you how many rehearsals and recitals I've been to. I've done campouts with a dozen girls in the mosquito-infested Everglades. I've stood in the school parking lot before dawn to watch a motor coach take Kaylee and her classmates off to St. Augustine--her first trip without mom and dad. I was on the “Great Art” committee, which means that I got to go into the classroom and teach kids about art by dressing up and pretending to be artists like Dali, Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Jackson Pollock. I taught first graders about fairy tales, the second graders about folk tales, third graders about mysteries, fourth graders about historical fiction, and fifth graders about fantasy. I even had the privilege of serving on the board of trustees, where we got to make decisions that will shape Kaylee's school long after the class of 2007 is gone. I spent so much time on the school campus that people started calling me Mr. Mom. I nixed that pretty quickly, but if you think abuot it, that was really a compliment.

It’s hard to believe that eight years passed that quickly. But thankfully, I don’t ever have to say it went by and I missed it. I was there every step (and stumble) of the way. It wasn’t just quality time. It was time. Lot’s of time. For a former lawyer who spent 12 years of his life worrying mostly about billable time, these last eight years have been priceless. So here's to the graduates. Thanks for the smiles.

Jackie will be next back next week.


  1. from Jacqueline

    I think I can just about manage to type out a comment with the left hand - so glad you wrote this piece, James, it is just lovely. Seems your daughter was not the only one graduating from that school - and how fortunate for everyone that she has a dad who pitched in with everything. And thanks for pitching in for me today.

    I would have paid good money to see you as Dali, or even Van Gogh the Earless.

  2. Hey, James,

    What a great post! Makes me wish I was little again and in your daughter's class. It sounds like so much fun with so many interesting things going on. :-D

    Hope your shoulder feels better real soon, Jacqueline.


  3. James, how lucky that you've had this time with your daughter. Sounds like both of you have been enriched by the experience as have the rest of her classmates. Good show.

    Our J, take care of that shoulder. We're all wishing you a speedy recovery.

  4. Congratulations to you and Kaylee, Mr. Dad, and what a wonderful post!

  5. Our J, hope the shoulder is feeling much better soon.

  6. Congratulations to Kaylee.

    Get well soon, Jackie.

    James, you may already be discovering that regardless of how much time you spend with your children, it is never enough. I was lucky enough to be home with mine for three years, doing the PTA bit, plays, and other things with the gradeschoolers, but it just wasn't enough. I feel sorry for all the parents who don't get more of that great time with their children. You are so lucky to have had the time you did--you'll never regret it.

    LEAPHOLES should have won.

    Tom, T.O.

  7. I must admit, I was half expecting to see that you'd jumped in with both feet and started coaching that dance class, too. Glad to see that you limited yourself to recitals and such.

    My twins just "graduated" 6th grade, and will go on to middle school next year. I couldn't help but think how quickly time flies. How wonderful that you've been able to experience such a wonderful part of life.