These are the first words I hear each and every Saturday morning. My crude attempt to recreate them in text form does not do the sound of those words any form of justice. When my second daughter was born, my wife and I developed an understanding that since she had to get up every night to feed the baby, Saturday mornings were hers to sleep in and I would take care of our eldest daughter Naomi. My wife gets to sleep in as late as she can, and I get up with Naomi and we hang out. Most Saturdays I’m awoken by the singsong cadence of those words, and it’s better than any alarm clock I’ve ever owned. I bolt upright in bed, scramble to grab my phone and iPad off of the nightstand next to me, shut the doors to our bedroom behind me and race up the stairs to the landing overlooking our living room. I scoop my daughter up in my arms and hold her tight. I then carry her downstairs and she sits next to me on the couch, watching the iPad while I read a book or play a video game on my computer or something else. Sometimes I wake up before her, but the routine is still the same. Race to the top of the stairs, scoop, snuggle, couch.
It doesn’t matter how exhausted I might have been just a moment before. I wouldn’t trade this moment for anything in the world.
I don’t care about the lost sleep on a given Saturday, hearing my daughter’s voice calling my name melts my heart every single time. I know that it won’t last. Someday Naomi will outgrow this phase and start sleeping in. Her first words each Saturday will not be my name. But for now, I cherish each and every one of these mornings. Lord, never let me take it for granted.
The Baylor Girl
Naomi’s always been a Baylor girl. There were times that she would be inconsolable as an infant, just like any baby. I could start singing Old Fight and before I’d gotten past the first "Go Bears!", she would be smiling and giggling at me. Other songs just didn’t have the same impact. Once she started talking, she started singing it, too. It may have been the second song she learned, after maybe Jesus Loves Me. Now, every night before bed, she sings Jesus Loves Me (I’m not allowed to sing it with her) and then I sing Old Fight. She sometimes joins in, and sometimes she’s "too tired" to sing along. We then do TWO Sic ’Em Bears (if you don’t do the second, she will ask for one more). Every night, without fail.
For the longest time, she wanted to hear "The Baylor Song" in the car on the way to school. It became part of the "Naomi Playlist" that I developed, consisting of Old Fight, a couple of the Baylor cadences I have, Let It Go, and a smattering of Veggie Tales and Beach Boys songs ("The Beach Toys", as she refers to them). Lately she’s been more into "The Lonely Goatherd" from Sound of Music and "Spoonful of Sugar" from Mary Poppins, and that suits me fine. But the week of the first football game, out of the blue she once again requested "The Baylor Song." It was as though a bolt of electricity ran down my spine. She knows.
Naomi this morning, unprompted: "Good morning Daddy, it's Baylor football!" I. Am. So. Proud.— Peter Pope (@pbpope) September 4, 2015
That was how she greeted me on September 4. I was up early that morning to prepare the brisket I was to smoke and because it was time for Baylor football and I couldn’t sleep from the excitement. Of course it floored me. We’d talked about how Daddy was excited and ready for the game, but I never thought she too would be excited. Silly Daddy. She was. She requested her "Baylor Dress" (the cheerleader dress her grandmother gets her in every size) to wear to school, and when she came home that afternoon, her greeting was the same.
"Hi Daddy, It’s Baylor Football!!!" Be still my heart.
Come game time, she dutifully ate a bite of brisket (she’d promised me that morning that she would) and even claimed to like it (she’s not so much for the beef yet). As the game progressed, her attention fluttered this way and that, as expected for a 3-year old whose older cousins and aunt are present for the game. For a time she retired to the bedroom to rest with my wife, who had taken refuge there from the excitement to speak with some work folks on the phone and relax away from the fray. Naomi laid on the bed with her and actually watched the game with her. She was there when Jarrett Stidham took the field and on his first play threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Chris Platt. Shortly after the score, Naomi bounced into the living room and excitedly told me the following:
Naomi just now: One boy throws the ball and one catches it, and when he wins, (whispering) he gets a lollipop!— Peter Pope (@pbpope) September 5, 2015
No one told her this, but she came up with it by herself. I really should have sent Chris Platt a lollipop in the mail after that, but I’m sure that would qualify as an impermissible benefit. We let her stay up for the whole game, and when the game ended, she started crying. Sure, we let her stay up two hours past bedtime and she was exhausted, but the impetus for her tears was the end of the football game. We skipped most of the normal bedtime routine since it was so late for her but we did not skip over Old Fight. That night, she sang with me.
The Next Day
I bolted upright in bed and groggily reached for my phone and iPad, expecting the normal Saturday routine. I thought she would immediately ask to watch the iPad and turn on Blues Clues or Team Umizoomi or Strawberry Shortcake, but that wasn’t to be. As I switched on the lamp in the living room, I noticed that Naomi wasn’t in her normal spot on the landing that overlooks the living room. Instead, she was at the top of the stairs, sitting on the top step. As I bounded up the stairs for the scoop, my incredible daughter asked me a question I won’t soon forget.
"Daddy, can we watch Baylor Football?" This wasn’t general excitement because Daddy and Mommy were excited. The game was over. She didn’t ask for the iPad. No Strawberry Shortcake or Frozen. No, she wanted to watch Baylor Football. On her own. My heart swelled as I picked her up and brought her downstairs; I always hoped that my girls would take an interest in learning about football but didn’t know whether or not it would happen. Or so soon.
We made as far as Baylor leading 14–7 over SMU. If you recall the quick start to the game, that’s about 7 minutes of real time. She wanted to watch something else. So we put on the last 10:38 of the TCU-Baylor game for 2014. She watched the entire end of that game. It was fun, but I wondered if she’d had her fill. I expected that to be the end of it.
Teaching Her the Game
When she awoke from her nap that afternoon, she once again greeted me at the top of the stairs with the exact same request: Can we watch Baylor football?" We turned on the game again, and this time she sat attentively, paying attention to what was happening and asking questions. Granted, she’s three years old, so her questions were largely repetitive, but they were good questions for a three year old. We also had a rather humorous conversation regarding Shawn Oakman, which I tweeted:
N: He's very big.— Peter Pope (@pbpope) September 5, 2015
Me: Yes he is. He's much bigger than Daddy.
N: Yeah… You need to eat lots of food do that you can be as big as he is!
She has now decided that I've stopped growing, but she needs to eat all her food so that she can be bigger than Oakman. Dream big, kiddo.— Peter Pope (@pbpope) September 5, 2015
By the end of the day, she understood that while the blue team had the ball, the white team tried to stop the blue team from getting to the part at the end of the field. The blue and red parts on the ends of the field are called the "End Zone." When a person carries the ball into the end zone or catches it there, that’s called a "Touchdown!" This is as far as we’ve made it. I need to figure out what to tell her next, to keep introducing new information in a way that tells her more about the game. I’m thinking next comes "pass" and "rush," but I’m not sold. But for now, we’re at "end zone" and "touchdown."
She’s learned it, too. Since that day, any time I ask her what the parts on the far sides of the field are, she tells me; when I ask what happens when a player takes the ball there, she enthusiastically informs me, "TOUCHDOWN!!!" Every day since then, as I’m carrying her downstairs after waking up, she asks me, "Daddy, how many more sleeps until it’s Baylor football again?"
And every time, my heart melts all over again.