I attended a meeting of the board of directors of the Earthly Angels Autism Fund Tuesday night … sort of.
I barely glanced at the financial reports carefully prepared by president Ron D’Eliseo and casually cast my aye vote on a motion to distribute funds. If there was discussion on the agenda items, I didn’t notice.
Ron knew my mind was elsewhere and I knew he knew. I also knew didn’t mind. That’s because Ron D’Eliseo is a dad.
My distraction, you see, was a 19-month-old angel named Grace Kelly … Gracie, if you ask her.
Her dad, State Trooper Tom Kelly, brought her along to the meeting because her mom, WBRE-TV news anchor Candice Kelly was working. Tom and Candice are both on the Earthly Angels board.
Gracie, seated next to her dad who was seated next to me at the far end of the table, had me at hello.
I’m not sure if it was Gracie’s sweet ways, not to mention her extensive vocabulary for her age, or Tom’s loving interactions with her that had me so captivated, but the two of them commanded my full attention. Sorry, Ron.
Tom Kelly is what you might call a man’s man, and a trooper’s trooper. State Troopers traditionally put up with no nonsense, and Tom epitomizes that. He’s strong and tough and committed to enforcing the law. To Tom Kelly, right is right and wrong is wrong and there’s not a whole lot of gray in between. He’s the kind of guy you’d like to have close by in a tough spot.
But the Tom Kelly tearing up Gracie’s grilled cheese sandwich and fries into bite-sized pieces and placing a dollop of ketchup on the plate for her to dip them into is not that guy. Gracie’s turned him into a teddy bear.
“I’m a whole new man,” he said with a laugh when I asked him about his Harley and he said he doesn’t have it any more.
Gracie is clearly Tom’s best friend. As the two of them took delight in the train rolling by across the street from Lizza’s Mezzo Mezzo, where the meeting was held, I knew this wasn’t the first time they enjoyed seeing a “choo-choo” together. As Gracie responded flawlessly and without hesitation to Tom’s litany of “How does the kitty go?” “How’s does the elephant go?” I knew there were hours of interaction behind this performance.
I knew because I’ve been there. Yesterday, it seems, although it’s been decades since Greta and Michael were Gracie’s size.
Wasn’t I just putting ketchup on a plate next to a pile of French fries? Greta and Michael called ketchup “dip dip” because that’s what they did with it. Or maybe it was the fries that were the dip dip. Or the process.
Anyway, I watched Tom with envy.
“Enjoy her,” I said at one point, “she won’t be little forever,” though it was clear Tom has no need of such advice.
Still, he’s in for a shock at how fast time is going to fly.
Greta turned 31 on Friday. Thirty. One.
I mean no disrespect when I say that June 6 is D-Day to the rest of the world, but as of 1983 it became G-Day for me. My world was changed forever.
I don’t know Tom Kelly’s age but I do know he’s no 20-something. That’s significant. I was 34 when Greta was born and that made a difference. I was ready to devote myself to her and it sure seems Tom is in the same place.
I told Tom when Greta was Gracie’s size she was my best friend and Tom said it’s the same with him. I told him I talked to Greta all the time. If we were in the car, I’d rarely play music. Instead, Greta and I would talk. Tom said it’s the same with him. I told Tom I read story books to Greta all the time, her favorites over and over and over. You already know what Tom said.
I know what’s ahead for Tom and I’m happy for him. One of my favorite Gretas is the two or three year old whose only goal in life was to grow up and marry me. I allowed her to say that all she wanted knowing she’d figure out soon enough that’s not how things work.
Tom has this same experience coming … sooner rather than later judging by Gracie’s precociousness.
At various stages of Greta’s life I found myself saying I wish I could freeze her. I wanted to freeze her at 2 and 3 and 5 and 6 and never let her grow a single day older.
Now, as I try to let it sink in that she just turned 31, I just wish I could freeze me so I could keep enjoying her for another 31 years.
Tom Kelly will know this feeling all too soon.