How Ginger got her name

Penning this story, my first thought for a title was: “When I learned I’d lost and would never win again – ever.” But that is too long. Let me tell you how Ginny became Ginger. When our daughter began school in Pasadena, CA, her first teacher, the villain in this story, would change our world forever.

All parents agonize over naming their children. Although the technology was available, we chose not to take advantage of it, and were unaware of the gender of our soon-to-be-born baby. This meant we’d come up with a list of boy and girl names for our pending new arrival. I can’t recall them all now, but after weeks of discussion, it was down to just a few for each. For girls, although we wanted to wait until we saw him/her to be sure, we’d talked about carrying on family tradition, naming her Virginia Ruth – Virginia after Maggie’s grandmother and Ruth, after my mother. I especially liked this idea because like Maggie’s legal name, Margaret, which can be shortened to Meg, Peg, Maggie, Marge, Margie, etc., Virginia would also allow a variety of nicknames. I was particularly fond of the potential of calling her “Ginny,” as one of my favorite high school classmates had been named Ginny. Everyone loved her. She was in the choir, theatre and worked on the school yearbook. Outgoing and full of energy, I thought Ginny a great nickname.

But first she had to be born and we needed to determine her gender. Maggie’s obstetrician had a long-standing routine of telling each of his patients the gender of the child they were carrying on their very first visit to his office. Now, at this first encounter with him, at around week 4 or 5, the pregnancy is only just being confirmed. Any talk of gender at this point would be considered no more than a wild-ass guess as sex isn’t determined until the first ultrasound, between 18 and 21 weeks, and even then they sometimes get it wrong. But here he was, at week 4, confidently telling Maggie she was going to have a boy. As he picked up her chart he said, “Now, I’m correct 100% of the time, and to prove it, I’m going to write down my prediction in your chart, on this visit date. I’m saying you are going to have a boy baby,” and he wrote in her chart.

Chuk Batko decorated the nursery wall with a painting

Maggie and I got into the child prep big-time. We took prenatal childbirth classes, every Tuesday for several weeks, with other expectant parents. I learned how to be a good coach and we both learned what to expect and how not to be freaked out in the delivery room. We acquired a crib, baby clothes and supplies to care for an infant. Our friend Chuk Batko painted the walls of a small bedroom with a truly awesome kid mural.

Right after dinner on March 13, 1984, Maggie said she was beginning to feel odd and rightfully predicted this might be the night. At around 10:00 pm, as we were starting to get ready for bed, her water broke. We didn’t panic. We were ready even though it was two weeks before her due date. We got to the hospital just before midnight. I’ll not describe the 12 hour labor process, but I’m sure Maggie remembers every minute of it. The important thing was our daughter was born around 1 PM on March 14. And we knew immediately we would call her Virginia.

Before jumping to how her name changed, you must allow me to recount Maggie’s triumphant first post-delivery visit to her obstetrician. She couldn’t wait to tell him he’d been wrong in his gender prediction, perhaps for the first time ever. How sweet! She was quick to bring up his erroneous prediction. He scratched his head and said, “No, no, that doesn’t sound right. I’m sure I said you would have a girl.” When Maggie protested, he said, “Hold on, no need to argue, I think I wrote it down. Let’s check your chart,” and he flipped back a few pages and there, written clearly and indisputably was: Sex = Girl. “I told you, I’m right 100% of the time,” he said. Maggie left his office a bit perplexed.

As she was paying her bill, the woman at the counter asked her what she was shaking her head about. Maggie explained what had just happened. The office manager said, “Oh, he pulled that on you, too?” Maggie looked at her quizzically and she said, “When he predicts the sex of the baby, he always writes down the opposite of what he says. If he guesses correctly, no one ever asks to see the chart. But if he guesses wrong, and the chart is checked, it always proves he’s right, because he records the opposite of what he says.” They both had a good laugh.

The school in Pasadena where Ginny began first grade was only a few miles from our home. But it was an old school, in a neighborhood largely occupied by retired people. The school district had not staffed it with their best and most dedicated teachers. In visits to the classroom, Maggie found the teacher playing cartoon videos to the kids as she napped at her desk in the rear of the room. Complaints from Maggie and other mothers to the principal had not endeared her to the teacher and sometimes, she took it out on Ginny.

Several times Ginny had come home from school complaining when her teacher was angry at her, she would call her Jennifer Larsen. “Get back to your desk and sit down right now Jennifer,” the teacher would yell at her. “Mom,” Ginny complained, “She thinks my full name is Jennifer and I’m Jenny for short. But my name is Virginia and everyone calls me Ginny. How can I stop her from calling me Jennifer?” Always attentive and pragmatic, Maggie explained just like Margaret, Virginia has all sorts of good nicknames. Besides Ginny, she could be Virgie, Gina, Ginger, Geena or Gigi among others. She didn’t get far past “Ginger,” when Ginny said, “Wait, my nickname could be Ginger?” Maggie said, “Yes,” and Ginny beamed. She’d been watching Gilligan’s Island on TV and Ginger clearly was her favorite on the show. “Okay,” she said, “From now on, I want everyone to call me Ginger.”

The next several weeks went by with her politely and patiently correcting people who called her Ginny, telling them her name was now Ginger. One night in bed Maggie mentioned to me our daughter had noticed I was still calling her Ginny, and had asked her mother what to do about it. I explained to Maggie I liked the nickname Ginny. I wasn’t one to ever be confused and call her Jennifer. And besides, it was okay if everyone else called her Ginger and I still called her Ginny. I said, “Lots of Dads have a pet name for their daughter not shared with everyone else. It’s like a special dad-daughter thing, sort of nice, don’t you think?” Maggie said, “Maybe, but I think you’re just not trying.” I shrugged it off.

A week or two later, I was relaxing after work. In my “decompress” time, I would sit down in my easy chair with a cocktail and the newspaper. I’d only been there for a few minutes when Ginny pushed herself under the newspaper, between my legs, and wiggled her way into my lap. She stuck her legs over one of my arms and leaned her shoulders against my other arm as I did my best to ignore her. She just lay in this position, looking up at me, not saying a thing. Finally, I looked down into her face and said, “Y…e…s?” She composed herself slightly and then very clearly uttered two short sentences: “Daddy, by now, everyone else is calling me Ginger, but not you. Dad, I really prefer Ginger.” And she just looked at me with those steady, unblinking eyes. What could I do or say? My mind went totally blank. I just stared at her for a long time and then I said, “OK, I’ll try.” She gave me a big grin, a little squeeze and said, “Thanks, Dad,” and hustled off my lap and was gone.

I sat stunned. Of course, she had won. I never even got to trudge out any of my arguments for continuing to call her Ginny. And perhaps more importantly, for the first time, something else dawned on me. It was her determination and persistence. Maybe even stubbornness? She was just six years old and I had to marvel at her understanding and ability to adapt her tactics to get what she wanted – especially from me.

Years later, when she was a teenager, one night half-way through dinner she announced, “I’ve decided I’m a vegetarian; I am not eating meat anymore.” After Ginger left the table, Maggie wondered out loud, “How long do you think this phase will last?” I said, “Oh, oh, I’ve got some bad news. I’ve heard that voice before. She’s not going to change her mind – you better get out the vegetarian cookbook.” She turned 36 years old this year. She’s still a vegetarian and everyone calls her Ginger.

 

Blue Diamond, Black Diamond, what’s the difference?

In the mid-1980s, while at AT&T, I extended a trip in Colorado to go skiing. I chose a spot called Hidden Valley Resort. It wasn’t so much for tourists, but close to Denver, so ideal for one-day trips by the locals. I had no clue that bravado, stupidity, chauvinism and hubris could amass to cataclysmic intensity in one event on just one day.

black runs at the topHidden Valley Ski area opened in 1955 and closed in 1991. Ten miles outside of Estes Park, Colorado, it moved skiers to the top with ropes, Poma and T-Bars and eventually chair lifts. Most memorable were the olive green, canvas-covered army trucks (replaced with school buses by the time of my visit) transporting more adventure-oriented skiers to the upper valley, where tow ropes transported them to the top of the mountain, allowing a downhill rush through pine groves and powder. The resort featured an impressive 2000-foot vertical drop from 11,400 to 9,400 feet, with 30 percent beginner, 30 percent intermediate, 30 percent expert and 10 percent insane (my opinion) trails. Patrons were mostly northern Colorado residents avoiding the long drive and high prices of larger resorts along I-70. In 1984, a season pass to Hidden Valley cost $100 and adult daily lift tickets were $10. The resort never competed successfully with the larger areas and after a lousy snow season it closed operation and removed its lifts in 1991.

Having not skied in several years, I began my day with a lesson. Sure enough, with a good instructor and attentive practice, I’d returned to being a “mid-to-pretty-good intermediate skier” of a few years earlier. So, I hit the slopes.

After my early sessions on the green slopes, I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon perfecting my technique on blue (intermediate) slopes. My skills had returned and I felt confident. After a quick bowl of chili for lunch, I headed outside. Carrying my skis toward the chair lift, I spotted a school bus close to me with lettering on the side saying “Upper Valley” and decided to take it. I stowed my rented skis on the rack and got inside. Realizing I was one of the first on the bus and it wouldn’t leave for a few minutes, I hustled to the restroom to pee. When I returned, half a dozen guys were now on the bus and it was ready to roll. I sat down and the bus pulled out. I pulled my gaze from the attractive skiers walking past the bus to its interior. It was then I saw it: A large sign, right above the driver’s head, where you typically see the sign saying “Tips Appreciated,” was one saying: “This bus goes only to black diamond and double black diamond slopes – Expert skiers ONLY!”

Bus to upper trails

Oh boy, what to do? I had 15 minutes to think as the bus wound its way up the hill. First, I sure didn’t want to wimp out in front of all these guys and, at this point, everyone on the bus was male. I thought about ducking down in my seat and riding the bus back down, but realized it wouldn’t work. Second, my day so far had been going very well. My confidence level was high. I’d been on black diamond slopes before and while I wasn’t pretty, I always managed to get down. “Let’s see how this goes,” I thought.

At the top, everyone got off the bus and collected their skis. Thoughts of sneaking onto the bus disappeared as it left the second our skis were off the rack. Our small group of riders had sort of become a club, feeling a bit of comradery, never speaking to each other, but no dues, either. Latching up, I followed the group as they slowly traversed a ridge with a steep drop off to the right. OK, more accurately, a sheer cliff to the right. Every 15-25 feet or so, one of the group members would peel off and head down the slope. I kept following the guy in front of me, hoping he would lead us to a more gradual slope. It didn’t happen. As hard as it was to comprehend, the further we went along the ridge, the steeper the drop off to the right became.

This is the steepness I recall on the mountain.

With only 3 guys left, we finally reached the end. Hope of finding a gentler slope vanished. Instead, here was a T-Bar leading up and off to the left, into a deep white mist. Running out of options and terrified of having to ski off the cliff to my right, I followed my two remaining buddies as they hooked onto the T-Bar and we were pulled higher up the mountain. Examining the areas slopes sometime later, I realized I was heading to an area called “Tombstone Ridge.”

Arriving at the top, it felt as if I was close to the summit. It was colder. My two friends quickly disappeared into the thick fog covering the slope below, and the wind began to pick up. It was late afternoon and I was alone, at the top of a mountain, wearing skis. Everyone was gone. Thoughts of ski management people finding me in the spring alternated with my mumbling to myself “Don’t panic, take it one step at a time.”

It turns out lack of visibility can be a good thing. Because of the fog, I was unable to see very far down the mountain. Looking across a steep, icy slope, I saw a mid-sized pine tree, the nice Christmas-y type, 25 feet tall with big, wide branches at the bottom. I decided to go across the slope, rather than down, and into the tree’s lower limbs to stop my momentum. Miraculously, it worked.   More important, from this vantage point, I saw another tree on the other side of the slope, only a little bit further down, and I proceeded to ski directly into it as before, using the branches to break my rapidly accelerating pace.

This seemed to work. I crashed from one tree to another, not dying. Sure, I was skinned up a bit, but thick gloves and goggles make for better protection than you might think. But this was exhausting.  While recovering and gathering my energy in the branches of a tree, out of the mist came the savior I’d secretly been praying for. A skier in the distinctive uniform of the Ski Patrol was headed in my direction. “Oh, thank God, I am saved.” I thought.

The patrol person expertly skied right up to me, finessed a quick little turn and stopped, lifted her goggles and shouted to me through the howling wind, “Are you okay? Do you need any help?” OMG, it was a woman, a girl! Before thinking I said, “No, no, I’m fine, just catching a breather.” And with no time for me to reconsider my foolish response, she adjusted her gloves, smiled at me, pulled down her goggles and skied off down the hill. I thought to myself, “God, I am an idiot and a moron!”

The tree-to-tree skiing technique kept me from killing myself for the next few hours (well, okay, maybe 15 minutes) and I came to an ice-covered half-pipe-like formation. With no trees to slow my fall, I sat down, undid my skis and slid down through the bowl on my butt. Not the most dignified way to come down a mountain, but I did not die, either.

long straight slope through the treesEmerging at the bottom of the trough, I saw a sign showing a list of runs heading off in different directions. And then, one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life, right in the middle of the list, was a blue diamond indicator (intermediate slope) and an arrow pointing to my left. I headed in that direction immediately and 30 minutes later, reached the bottom of the hill, alive, and able to recount this story.

Those of us committed to equality in the workplace and in life, often forget how deeply ingrained our sexist outlook really is and how it affects us in daily life. When in the delivery room with Maggie, as my daughter Ginger was born, I recall looking around me: the obstetrician was a woman, the anesthesiologist was a woman and the nurse was a woman. As my daughter was born I thought to myself, God help anyone trying to stand in the way of my daughter’s being anything she’ll ever want to be, and thankful she’d grow up in a world where people were judged on their abilities and not their gender or skin color. Sadly, we have a long way to go on both counts.

The Most Expensive Golf Clubs Ever

John Woychick and Ron Herem – one of the holes we see from our deck in Phoenix.

Here in Arizona, our house overlooks a golf course, as do 84.4% of all homes in Phoenix (just kidding). But neither Maggie or I play. In fact, if you asked any of my golfing friends “Does Steve play golf?” the most likely response would be “Not so much.” This story is not about golfing, although I suspect both golfers and non-golfers will find something of interest.

First hole, 520 yards, Par 5

Living in the Twin Cities from 1997 – 2003, after joining the founding team of Net Perceptions, we purchased a nice home on Bent Creek Golf Course in Eden Prairie. I loved the unfolding deep green lawn stretching from my backyard seemingly to forever. Better was it never needed my non-existent gardening ambitions. Our deck overlooked the green of the first hole, a 520 yard, Par 5, providing hours of entertainment. Being the first of 18 holes, the final players of the day passed our home pretty early. This allowed me to take a bucket of balls after the concluding golfers had passed and chip them from my backyard onto the green. Then I would step up onto the green, and putt them all into the hole.

While never playing the course, I got along well with the club management, pro and groundskeepers. Once they’d needed to use our lawn for some sand trap repairs and I’d made it easy for them. I knew most of the groundskeepers and waved every morning as they made their rounds. One time I noticed an older guy operating one of the riding mowers. That seemed odd. All the rest of the crew appeared college age and in pretty good shape. This guy was neither. I never spoke with him, but asked about him one day at the club’s golf shop. After describing him, a look of acknowledgement came across the course manager. “Oh, he’s not a regular groundskeeper; he’s one of our members. Due to all his DWI arrests, he’s lost his driver’s license. But he misses driving. So, his wife brings him over here and we let him drive the mowers around.”

Although not a true golfer, I’d become familiar with the game during my five year stint at AT&T, where golf is part of the culture. Not only were deals done on the course, AT&T sponsored golf events (Pebble Beach Pro-am for one) and invites high-value clients and arranges for them to play a round with a genuine professional and AT&T executives. Like it or not, I was expected to attend and play. While no need for me to be a stellar golfer, embarrassing the company by shooting a poor game was also not acceptable. After several lessons and lots of practice, my game settled into one where although never hitting the ball very far, I always seemed to hit it straight. It turns out this often resulted in a half-decent score, especially when playing with those who tended to plaster the ball a great distances but in all the wrong directions.

My golf clubs were purchased used for $15 at a garage sale in the early 90s, and I never really thought much about them. When going to an event, I threw them into my trunk, and then onto a cart. Perhaps someone looked a bit askance at my clubs now and then, but after seeing Rodney Dangerfield’s bag of clubs in Caddyshack, I was glad the size of my bag was at the other end of the spectrum. For at least 10 years of playing and a good number of prestige events, those were my only clubs.

As it turned out, Net Perceptions was a success, and went public in 1999, just before the Internet bubble burst in 2001-2002. Before the crash, it appeared I had a great deal of money, although most of it was on paper and in lock-up agreements. One downside of suddenly acquiring a big chunk of money is the mistaken belief you’ve also acquired extra brains in the process. This leads to thinking you must have the magic touch when it comes to picking investments. Of course, those opportunities are being thrown at you right and left by people whose business it is to follow newly-rich people around with the goal of snapping up some of that loot. This is how I was exposed to and made a $25,000 investment in a company that manufactured custom golf clubs.   Here is how the scam, oops, I mean “business model” worked.

It begins with a desperate-to-improve golfer in a golf shop talking to the local pro on ways to improve his game. Everyone knows buying something, like special long-range balls, or the “super driver of the decade” or the “magic putter” which makes all putts roll accurate and true, is much simpler than taking lessons and actually practicing. And so, sales are made. It reminds me of the story of the couple passing a talented piano player at a bar, leaving a tip as they depart and saying, “Wow! You were just great. I’d do anything to play like that. Well, except take lessons and practice, of course.”

Back to our story: At some point, the pro suggests the stock off-the-shelf clubs the player is using may be holding him back. What might help is a special set of custom-made clubs, where grips are tailored specifically to the hands of the player, the shaft lengths cut to fit the player’s exact height and the heads all angled for his particular sweet spot. “Expensive?” he asks. “Oh my, not really, and think about consistently shaving half a dozen strokes from each game,” the pro replies.

A full set of top brand irons typically ran about a thousand dollars then, and the fully-customized set with a fitted set of shafts and grips was about $2,000. So, the pro arranges for a “fitting,” using the computer software, camera and other goodies provided by the company in which I’d invested. Once the company got the specifics for the golfer, they tweaked their stock shafts, clubs and grips to match the order sheet, applied the logo of whomever’s brand was specified (Callaway, Ping, Wilson, etc.) and then, finally, the most important and perhaps costly step, packing them up to look like high-value works of art.

Part of my $25k investment was a set of custom clubs. They would arrange for me to go to the factory—which was local—and be personally fitted for a set of clubs and receive those clubs for free. Of course, at this point, I already knew the cost from the business model was around $200 bucks, but still, I couldn’t resist “free” and was on time for my appointment the following week. Arriving on Saturday morning at the company’s warehouse-like facility, I removed my clubs from the trunk of my car. They’d asked me to bring the set I currently played with, perhaps as some sort of baseline—I wasn’t sure. But I hefted them onto my shoulder and strolled through the wide open double garages of the warehouse space where I was welcomed by the investment guy and one of the measuring pros. The pro grabbed my bag, looked at it and said, “Oh, Mr. Larsen, you must have grabbed the wrong bag, these are lady’s clubs. Did you pick up your wife’s clubs by mistake?” When I looked at him quizzically, he said, “I’m serious, these are Mickey Wright signature clubs.” Apparently this Mickey Wright logo I’d been seeing for the past decade wasn’t some famous male golf pro, but a famous woman golfer. Oh god. Do you recall the scene at the end of the “The Six Sense” when Bruce Willis’s character flashes back on all those scenes, realizing he actually wasn’t in them and redefines the entire film, giving it a whole new meaning? My mind flashed over years of looks from other golfers and caddies as they saw my clubs, then shot a look at me, then again at my clubs.

Duh! It finally hit me—what all those funny looks were about. Upon reflection, it came home to me that acquiring money doesn’t make you any smarter than you were the month or year before. Unfortunately, the market crash and subsequent IRS issues wiped out any semblance of my “being rich,” which in the long run, was probably all for the good. I stopped looking for homeruns and returned to saving at least 20% of any money that came my way and while perhaps not the “smartest” play one can make financially, it’s consistent with my values of hard work, persistence and determination. In the end, they’ve always served me best. And I stopped playing golf and gave my $25,000 clubs to my cousin.

Oh Shoot! Shoot, Shoot, Shoot


When Ginger was a baby, my stint as Vice President of Marketing at Open Systems came to a close. We needed insurance while I was between jobs, so Maggie went back to work and we agreed I would stay home with Ginny (which was what we called her then). How she went from Ginny to Ginger is a story for another day.

The movie, Mr. Mom, starring Michael Keaton, had recently come out. His character, Jack, is fired from his job and his wife, Caroline (Teri Garr) goes back to work and they switch roles. I thought, “Hell, why not? How hard could taking care of a single child be?” Maggie wasn’t fully on board initially, but then she warmed to the idea as she saw how enthusiastic I was to give it a shot. Soon, she was heading off to work at Control Data Corporation, while I remained at home and took care of Ginny. What an amazing opportunity for a Dad and daughter to bond. She was coming up on birthday number 1; she was perfect without exception and life was great.

Before relating the events that occurred, let’s get two facts clear from the start. The first is how long this lasted: In my mind, and whenever telling of this story, it always seemed to me it was about a year. Looking at the timeline more carefully, I found that no more than 3 months is more likely the right number. Well, it sure seemed a lot longer to me! Second, I was a very involved Dad before this point. We did the pre-natal birthing classes together, I was with Maggie during labor and delivery, and the first to hold baby Larsen after she was born. Once we got Ginny home, I was an equal partner in feeding, bathing, and changing diapers. Well, most of it — I didn’t do laundry or meal preparation. That was about to change.

How to start the process with Maggie gone and Ginny and me at home, alone together? Well, my primary objective was to get organized. This house needed a makeover and I threw myself into the task. The initial focus was Ginny’s closet and her clothes. As a first child, she’d been the recipient of a massive amount of clothes gifts from family members and friends. Add in a big gap in children for our family and we ended up with piles of hand-me-down baby clothes on top of all the new stuff. I emptied every clothes drawer. Her garments were washed and neatly folded and returned to the bureau for safekeeping. Once this was complete, I was loath to see any of her fresh, clean outfits get dirty, so most of the time, Ginny wore a diaper and T-shirt. I found, if I turned the t-shirt inside out before her mother got home, I could get an additional day with a shirt before it needed to be laundered. Thankfully, we were on the disposable diapers kick already.

The next step for this homemaker in creating and customizing his workspace was to organize the kitchen. In one day I removed each single item from each cupboard and drawer, laying out the pieces across the kitchen table, dining room table, and other flat surfaces. Then, after cleaning everything, including the cabinet interiors, all the stuff was put away. The kitchen now conformed to my new, well-studied, and optimized layout. Each plate, fork, bowl, pot, and frying pan was precisely where it should be, although not where Maggie thought they should be, but it was my kitchen now. Part of the problem with this turned out to be an exquisite design. It was simply so good, once everything was put away, I didn’t want dishes and glassware to ever come out again. I began serving meals on paper plates and using plastic ware. “Mess up my kitchen?” Not on your life!

In my defense, my career mirrored this behavior precisely. In my 40’s I finally figured out where in the business world I operated best, and it was as a builder. I loved early-stage companies, deciding on the direction, refining value propositions, constructing a profitable model, and then creating the plan and executing it. I was very good at that and loved doing it. It wasn’t work for me. I once said, “If you want a bridge built, you should hire me. But once it’s built, if you need a toll collector, or someone to paint and maintain the bridge, get someone else.”  Once a business is up and running, the key people are in place, the bugs worked through, the unknowns are all known, I’m ready to move on.

After these key household goals were accomplished, which occurred in only a few days, I turned my attention to my daughter and made sure I was getting her out for regular walks and excursions around the neighborhood. We lived with a lot of other young families and so running into other homemakers was unavoidable. Eventually, I was invited to a “Coffee Klatch” get-together. Wow, what an eye-opener that was.

Having not been here before, I let the 8-10 mothers do most of the talking, which was mostly about their kids progress and done simultaneously. “Lyle is so advanced; his doctor says he’s never seen a boy at 10 months who can crawl as far and fast as he does.” “My precious little Kathie is much more advanced, she was trying to put a dress on one of her dolls, and she’s only 7 months old.” “Little Buster is so ahead of the other boys in his daycare, the teachers told me they’ve never seen a kid drinking from a sippy cup at that age.” I was amazed: every one of their kids was in the top cohort, the upper 10% or in some other way, in the most advanced group ever – longest, heaviest, most hair, earliest tooth, motor skills, etc. Eventually, they noticed I hadn’t chimed in and tried to get me to open up. I was initially reluctant, but realizing you couldn’t have a top end of the scale without a bottom end, I told them in light of what I’d been hearing, there was no doubt in my mind, Ginny was clearly retarded. I went on to say, “I think she’s in the bottom third of everything they measure kids on. That said, I do think she giggles well. She really is very good at giggling – oh, and laughing, too. Damn, she can laugh extremely well. I was thinking she might be further along in laughing than some other kids and while I think it may be her strongest capability at this point, I have to admit, it seems pretty much the same as other kids her age.”  Hard to believe, but I never got invited back to another Coffee Klatch event.

But those mothers took their revenge. They began squealing on me to Maggie. They would snitch and inform on me about every little infraction as if it was catastrophically horrible. “He was out jogging, and he had Ginny on his shoulders, she was bouncing up and down, I swear to God he was about to drop her.” Or, “He was pulling her in the wagon and she wasn’t wearing a jacket, scarf, mittens or hat. She was so cold her lips were turning blue.” Fortunately for me, while Ginger was learning to speak, she wasn’t yet speaking in sentences or even making much sense when she did speak. Don’t get me wrong, she was delighted to try and say new words, but typically did not appear to know what they meant. As a result, she became the star, go-to witness in my defense and I called her to the stand whenever needed. When confronted by Maggie with the latest horrifying tail of something unfitting I’d done with our daughter, I’d look at Ginny and ask, “Did Daddy and Ginny have fun?” and I’d throw my hands up in the air and make a funny face. Ginny never failed to throw her hands in the air too, and giggle and laugh. This nearly always got me off the hook. We made a great team and none of the charges ever stuck.

The day I got into the most trouble began innocuously enough. I had turned a room into an office directly across from the nursery, with a desk and wall consisting of 3 large bookcases. It turned out the room was too small for the bookcases. I decided to move the bookcases out to the family room, which was much larger and would accommodate them easily. Studying the task, it seemed simple. Reach in, grab both sides of 8 – 12 books from a shelf, take them into the family room, and pile them on the floor. Once the bookcases were empty, have Maggie help me move them to the family room and then reload them. Easy.

But what to do with Ginny in the process of the book moving? No worries, I set her up in her bouncy chair so she could sit, play, and watch me as I made the move. After a few trips, the number of trips I was going to need to make began to dawn on me. So, with each new load, I began expanding the number of books I would take, squeezing my arms together more and more tightly. Soon I’d exhausted the lower shelves on the far left bookcase. Bringing in a 3-foot step stool from the garage, I could reach the top shelves. Putting my hands on either side of a pretty good length of books I slowly moved them off the top shelf. As soon as I turned around on the top step of the stool, the books collapsed in the middle and fell to the floor with a loud crash. Even before they landed, I loudly yelled “Oh Shit!” Ginger looked up at me, looked down at the mess scattered across the floor, and as clear as a bell, said, “Oh Shit, oh Shit, oh shit.”

God was I in trouble. Now what? I picked up the fallen books and put them in the other room. Standing in the doorway of the office, I looked at the shelf from where the accident had occurred. Sensing Ginny’s eyes on me, I got back up on the ladder, feigned grabbing another full armful, turned back to her, and said, “Oh Shoot! Shoot, Shoot, shoot!” enunciating perfectly, to make sure there was no mistake in understanding, and slowly turning my head from side to side in a look of dismay. Looking up at me with a twinkle in her eye from her bouncy chair, as clear as a bell she said, “Shit, shit, shit. Oh, Shit!”

Ginger and Uncle John Gravley, at about the time this story takes place.

I’m not sure how many days it was before I got nailed, but it wasn’t many. Maggie was putting something away in the kitchen and she bumped a cup from the counter onto the floor. Ginny, sitting in her high chair, looked at her and triumphantly said, “Oh Shit! Oh shit, oh shit.” I was out on the deck, but heard Maggie call, “Steve, you better get in here, right now.” Yeah, I was toast. No witness to my defense this time. I told her the whole story and she reluctantly forgave me, but not before reminding me how impressionable young brains can be.

I loved my 3 months or so playing Mr. Mom and believe Ginny and I did bond in some special ways. Caring for her was an important task and I always took it seriously. There was never a point I put her in any real danger, although I’m sure I did things most first-time mothers might not do. But mostly I remember the two of us laughing a lot and having fun.

Dad and Ginger, dropping her off at Kenyon College. One of these two could not stop crying.