I’m so happy to have been invited to your graduation party; I have always hoped this day would come. I’ve thought about you every morning for about the last four thousand seven hundred and forty five mornings or so and I wanted to tell you why.
You taught me a life lesson back when you attended Wonderyears Daycare at the United Church in Walpole and my wife Susan’s child daycare center Paddington’s Place in the Foundry Building after she purchased Wonderyears.
I used to stop by to visit Susan after I got out of work and I often got a kick out of saying hello to all of the kids. Sometimes I’d tell a silly story or joke and get everyone laughing.
On one such occasion you and Taylor O’Leary were playing in the hallway at the United Church when I arrived. It was a brisk day outside. When I walked in I said hello to you and Taylor and told you that it was chilly outside. You both looked up at me and said “chili” to which I remarked, “yes and a little spaghetti too”. You both laughed.
That wasn’t the end of my silly joke though. You and Taylor took the joke and played with it, morphed it into a nickname for me. Now I wouldn’t normally enjoy being called “Meatball Head” but since it was two cute little kids I thought it was funny. What happened next is where my life lesson began.
Your mother related a story of how you put up a considerable fuss at a Papa Gino’s restaurant, insisting that she buy you a small rubber meatball head character. I think she knew you called me Meatball Head, I think she was always a little concerned that I might not have appreciated it.
I can’t imagine what must have been going through your mother’s mind, trying to get out of a pizza shop, presumably with dinner, and her young child putting up a fuss wanting some little rubber toy. How many times do children want something in a store? How many times must a parent say no? This time you had apparently decided the answer couldn’t be no.
When Susan related your mother’s story to me I was overwhelmed to find out that a young child felt it so important to give me this little symbol of a joke we shared. Another day and I might have missed the affection I was being given and this is the lesson you have given me: Don’t take kindness for granted, particularly the kindness of a child.
Shortly before we received the invitation to your party I read a story by the author Robert Fulghum titled Love In A Paper Sack. I thought the story’s theme mirrored my story of you.
I realize just how valuable the lesson you taught me is when my daughter Hannah asks me to play dollies with her, or when my daughter Catherine colors me a picture and marks it TO THE BEST DAD IN THE UNIVERSE, FROM KATY.
In the mornings, as I’m getting ready to go off to work, I see it. I put the little rubber meatball head on my dresser and it has been there ever since you gave it to me. I didn’t consciously put it on my dresser. I just set stuff there when I get home. I’ve never stopped appreciating the little rubber meatball head and it is time that I return him to you as a symbol of how wonderful a child you were.
At this wonderful life event moment for you and as you stand upon the precipice of your adulthood; I want you to return for a moment to your childhood. Back to when we used to make silly jokes. Back to when your face would light up when I arrived. I have for so long wanted to thank that wonderful child.
My family wishes for you to win in life, to succeed in every endeavor, and to live your dreams. The image of the little rubber meatball head toy is indelibly inked in my memory as is my memory of the sweet little girl who used to call me Meatball Head.
James Norman Smith