About 10:00 on a sunny Saturday morning in 1995, my wife went outside to do some yard work. Our next door neighbor at the time, Sam Spitz, was out, and commented to my wife, “Boy, you guys were sure up early this morning.”
“What do you mean?”, Deb asked.
“Well, I saw Hannah and the dog outside at 5:30”
This was a revelation to us, as we slept in until almost 9:00 that morning. Unbeknownst to us, our daughter, about a year old, had gotten up, unlocked the door, and ventured outside, taking with her our dog, Sid. When she got tired again, she came back in, bringing Sid in with her, and went back to bed, where we found her contentedly sleeping when we woke up. How long she had been outside remains a mystery, as does how many other times previously she had woke up and decided to go outside. Suffice to say additional security measures were put in place after that morning.
Hannah is our third and youngest child, preceded by her two brothers, Jon and Nick. When my wife was pregnant with her, and when the ultrasound images indicated we were going to have a girl, we heard from more than one expert that girls are easier to raise than boys. For the first several months, this seemed to be true. She was the sweetest and calmest baby you could ever ask for. But then she learned to walk, and all Hell broke loose. And talk. And talk, talk, talk.
For the first five or six years of her life she was Hurricane Hannah. Strong and independent and smart beyond her years, she wore us out. Despite our attempts to act as “parents”, there was little doubt about who was really running things around our house. For example, there was the time when Hannah was in pre-school, and fascinated by the aquarium in her class room. My wife had prepared a quick and easy supper. After calling several times for her to come to dinner, Hannah finally came to the table. Quickly surveying the table and the main course of Van De Kamp’s fish sticks, she indignantly put her hands on her hips and confronted her Mother.
“You killed it, you cooked it, and you expect me to eat it?” The four year old was demanding an explanation.
“I didn’t kill it”, my perplexed wife responded.
“Well, you cooked it!”, she concluded as she left the table. My wife and I were dumfounded.
It was at this time that it became clear that the world we all lived in belonged to Hannah and was defined by her heart and her boundless imagination. She’d let me join in her imagination from time to time. Most mornings, I’d assume the role of the tireless servant who would serve her breakfast (“You’re oatmeal” I’d announce as I put it on the table in front of her, “is serrrrrrrved”). When she was little, she wanted to be a schoolteacher, and as I’d walk past her room, she’d be reading to a classroom of her stuffed animals, holding a picture book high up so they could all see. From time to time, I’d assume the role of principal, calling her into my office to give her some new curriculum. Sometimes she’d call me in to her classroom to help discipline kids who were misbehaving. I’d find myself lecturing invisible kids on the evils of throwing staplers at each other or bringing their pet giraffes into the classroom, at which point she’d sigh, “Dad, you’re getting too silly again.”
I used to call her “Hannah Banana at the Copacabana” and even created my own lyrics to the Barry Manilow classic (!), “Copacabana”, which I used to sing to her all the time.
Her name was Hannah / she liked bananas / she liked to sing and dance /and step on ants / at the copa,Copacabana./ Hannah Banana at the Copacabana
One day, as she sat on my lap watching television, I was flipping thru the channels when I came upon Barry Manilow himself sitting at a piano. As if on cue, he started singing the real “Copacabana”, to which Hannah turned to me and said with amazement, “He’s singing the Hannah Banana song!”
The years passed and there was the endless parade of classic Hannah moments, like the time she was angry at her brother Nick and emptied a container of Chinese sweet and sour sauce under his pillow, or the time she drew in bright red crayon over the bathroom walls my wife had just minutes before finished a long weekend wallpapering, or the time up north when she fell into the river (“I forgot about that”), or the many times we’d be awakened by the crashing sound of her falling out of bed in the middle of the night, followed by the faint cry of her voice saying, “I’m all right”, or the time when we moved the couch in the living room to see, on the wall behind it, in tiny print that was her unmistakable hand writing the words, “Jon did it”. Although she eventually grew out of her precocious youth into a sweet and smart girl, she has remained a vibrant and prodigious life force. There has never been a dull moment when Hannah’s been around.
Today (September 27th) is her 17th birthday, and she has grown into a lovely young lady who is just starting her senior year. She is smart and funny and surprisingly mature and level headed. I am very proud of her, and am going to miss her terribly when she goes to college next year.
One night, when she was about three years old, as I tucked her into bed, she said, “good night, froggy!”, to which I replied, “good night, froggy!” Ever since then, she has been my froggy, and no amount of time and distance will ever change that.