Almost every day, Michelle is the one who picks Isabella up from school.  Today, we made sure to do it together.

When Isabella spotted me coming through the door to the playground, she came running to me and jumped in my arms.  She didn’t notice that I was clutching her more tightly than usual.  She just squealed with delight and went running inside to gather her things.

While Michelle talked with the teachers, Izzy led me to her locker, showed me the Christmas tree she’d painted today, and shared the three Santa Claus drawings she had colored (“This one’s for me, this one’s for Mommy, this one’s for you!”).  She brought me into her classroom, saying, “Daddy, let me show you something,” and proudly led me to another drawing she had colored that was now hanging on the wall as decoration.   We sat in the “circle time” area and let her play teacher.   A paper stocking for each child hung on a low wall, each displaying the stickers earned for attentiveness and good behavior.   Isabella’s wide lead in the sticker count seemed to promise mastery of this daily ritual, and she did not disappoint.  With pointer in hand, she led her Mother and me through the days of the week (in song, of course), the letter of the day (O is for octopus), and the weather report.   Today, we learned, was sunny, but cold.

I imprinted every detail in my memory.   Because I realized that these ordinary moments were gifts that the parents of 20 children in Connecticut had not been given. 

Those families probably started the morning just like we did – with kids fighting to stay in bed, grousing about their clothes, and then brightening as they began searching for an elf, marking an advent calendar, or some other Holiday tradition.   They hurried along – thinking, like all the rest of us, that there would be plenty of time later for hugs, songs, and the letter of the day.   What would they have done differently if they’d known that wasn’t the case?  That thought is something I can’t stand to keep in my head for long.

We have to find the courage to fix whatever it is that’s making this scene play out again and again – in front of a supermarket, inside a movie theatre, and now, inside an elementary school.  Whether we address the widespread availability of guns, the lack of resources for the mentally ill, or the terrible ease with which those two things can intersect, we have no option but to act.   Because the suffering of those parents cannot have been in vain.

In the meantime, I will try my best to celebrate the gift I have been given.   Tonight, even while she squirmed in the back seat, scream-singing “one more pizza Lunchable” to the tune of the Olympic Fanfare, I could not have been more thankful.   Because tonight, I got to kiss my little girl good night.  Nothing I write here could possibly do justice to that. 


“I’m a Go Vols princess!”


There are a number of things I cannot explain about this photo.

Hello World

It appears my friend Katie Granju has posted a link to my recent re-entry into the blogging world.   This is no small thing, since Katie was recently named one of the 15 Most Powerful Beings in the Universe.  A link from her brings some serious traffic with it, so if you’re reading this, I’m sure I have her to thank for it.

However, I am well aware that the Katiesphere is one of the most savvy and discerning networks of web users out there.  I am also painfully aware that my blog is among the most primitive in existence –  lacking a single widget, or even one of those “Obama Wants Moms to Go Back to College” ads with the picture of the creepy toothless guy.  Sorry – I wasn’t expecting guests, or I would have tidied up the place.

I once heard Michael Moore tell a group of people, “If I’d known ‘Roger and Me’ was actually going to get any attention, I would have gotten a haircut and joined a Weight Watchers first.”   Now, I certainly don’t mean to imply that “Urleneology”  is in that league, and I know that 202 views (but who’s counting?) is not exactly the same as an Oscar nomination.  However, since a few people are now paying some (however brief) attention, I’ll try to write more, expand a little, and generally make the site more presentable.

The Weight Watchers thing is probably a pretty good idea, too.

Dear (Sophie) Isabella

So… there’s this Google ad, called “Dear Sophie.”  Set to a pleasant piece of piano music and the sound of typing keys, it shows a father writing emails to his daughter (the eponymous Sophie) from the time of her birth through some time around the announcement of her first Nobel Prize.  He closes with a dramatic pause, and a simple – but moving – “Love, Dad.”  

It’s a powerful piece of television.  One that should make me feel all warm and squishy inside, overcome by my kinship with this father and his love for his brilliant and implausibly worldly daughter.  Except that I hate him.  I hate Sophie’s Fictional Dad because he sets the bar ridiculously high for the rest of us.

I mean, while SFD is teaching his daughter to snowboard, scuba dive, and initiate cold fusion, other dads (specifically, me) are struggling to get ours into bed before 9pm and keep the right number of clothes on them until then (at least while we’re at the mall).  Until SFD and his :30 spot came along, I thought I deserved a little applause (and possibly a lovely piano soundtrack) just for managing to put Isabella’s legs through the right openings in her underwear, making up storylines for all the Barbies that don’t end up sounding like a porno, and almost keeping her from putting anything into a light socket.   But while I was congratulating myself, Sophie’s Fictional Dad was teaching his daughter ballet and simultaneously documenting it for her much older self.   Curse you, SFD!    What real father can be expected not only to provide love, support, and generally adequate nutrition, but also write about it on a regular basis?

Well, for one, me.  The reality is that Isabella is going to have to learn her snowboarding, scuba diving, and ballet dancing skills from professionals.  I’m not going to be a lot of help with those.  But what I can do reasonably well is write.  And SFD has made me realize that writing is what I should have been doing all along. 

As I look back through the extensive list of this blog’s previous posts (both of them), I realize I’ve learned a few things since the heady days of such classics as “Preview,” and “No News is…”  For instance, I’ve learned that, once you actually have the kid, attending church does not make you part of a lovely little tableau in which future life lessons are learned against a backdrop of music and love.  Instead, you spend your time in that holy place rationing out two bags of fruit snacks, quieting your child’s cries when she drops Clifford the Big Red Dog at the precise moment of the transubstantiation, and hoping against hope that if you sneak her a piece of the communion wafer, she’ll keep her trap shut until you make it back to the pew. 

But I’ve learned some good things as well, and the lessons that really matter are the ones that have come directly from my daughter.   I’ve learned that for some reason, our German Shepherd speaks French.  I’ve learned that you have to save a lot of monies if you want to go to Paris – maybe even more than two.  I’ve learned that tea tastes better when it’s made by a little princess in a wooden kitchen and served in a plastic cup with a face on it.  And I’ve learned that there is absolutely no limit to how much I can love this little kid with the tangle of blond curls.

These are the things I should have been writing about all this time.  So now it’s time to give it another go.  After all, Isabella might meet up with this Sophie kid at some point.   And we’re gonna need to show her dad who’s boss.

No News is…

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed an interesting trend in my phone calls.   Almost without exception, whenever I call my Mom or any friend, I get an expectant “Yes???!!!”

For several days, I congratulated myself that everyone had finally realized just how fascinating I really am.   Finally, though, I came to realize that they were not expressing their excitement about my call and the scintillating conversation it promised.  Instead, they were wondering if this was THE CALL – letting them know that little Urlene has finally arrived.  

So for now, I’ll start all my calls with “No, we don’t have any news yet.”   Soon enough, I’ll have some news to offer, and there will be a lot of excitement on both ends of the line.


One of the lessons I learned from my mother – however unintentionally – is that there are sometimes positives to showing up late. Despite my best efforts, this is a theory I continue to test.

When it comes to church, late arrival has its drawbacks as well. The big negative, of course, is the risk of eternal damnation. However, if tardiness is enough to send a person to fire and brimstone, that ship sailed long ago for me. The more tangible and immediate drawback to showing up just in time for the Gospel reading is the likelihood that you won’t get a seat. In our church, that means standing in the narthex for the entire mass, along with the teenagers and other undesirables.  On this Sunday, however, it was that very lack of a comfortable seat in a pew that proved my mother right.

The other group to take refuge in the church’s lobby is families of small children.   There’s a cry room at the back of the church, and a nursery in some distant place we’ll have to seek out later, but when a kid has to move in order to stay happy, this is the place for them.   

I’ll be the first to admit that my mind can tend to wander as the mass goes on.  The usual stuff – work, fishing, the checkbook, fishing, stuff I need to do, fishing, politics, and, of course, football.  But with our impending arrival, I find myself watching babies and kids more and more – trying to glean some tiny hint of what’s in store.  This morning, I got the full-length trailer.

The first one I noticed was impossible to miss – a little girl who’d just learned to walk with a vengeance (the keen parental senses I’ve now acquired tell me that puts her somewhere between 18 months and high school).   While she appeared to change clothes several times, she never stopped moving.  Without raising a ruckus, she determinedly covered every inch of the room as the mass went on, slowed only briefly by the occasional intervention of her mother – who seemed to be enjoying every second of it sheepishly.

Along her path, she staged little tableaus of future dramas.  First a brief encounter with a little boy led to her snatching the kid’s Thomas the Tank Engine toy and making off with it.  In toddler world, of course, this is something akin to a capital crime.  It led to an immediate proceeding of shrieking, chasing, and wrestling.  If parents hadn’t intervened, the little girl almost certainly would have been sentenced to hair-pulling.

Her next interaction was more tender, even if it ended in much the same way.   Some time around the homily, I noticed she was being chased by a boy about her age.   Within a few seconds, it became clear the boy intended to hug her, and – presumably because dinner and expensive jewelry were not involved – she had a keen disinterest in this prospect.  She finally found her way to her mother, then turned and confronted the boy with an icy stare that made it clear there would be no hugs today.  The boy froze in his tracks, and with a look of agony instantly recognizable to every member of his gender, turned and shuffled away.   “Get used to it, kid,” I thought.    “It might be the first time, but it won’t be the last.”

Around us, a dozen other kids came and went – the laughing ones, the singing ones, the fussy ones, and the ones working an angle on Mom and Dad.  There was a boy less than a year old who hung quietly in his father’s arms and stared intently at everyone as if convinced he’d never see anything so interesting again, and an impossibly cute little girl with curly red hair who spun around like a ballerina.  There was every age, every stage, every shape and size, every possible mood and personality.

Sometime around the sign of peace, I finally got it.   The habit passed on by mother – and that I just can’t seem to shake – once again showed its advantages.   We may have showed up late and missed out on a seat, but we got something amazing instead.  Here, with a soundtrack of church hymns and the Lord’s Prayer, we got a preview.   If we are very lucky, we will spend the next years watching our little girl grow up, discover the world and the people in it, and dance around without a care in the world.   

I can’t wait.