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The Check-On

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"Ssh, here comes Dad," my oldest daughter whispered, smiling and looking over her shoulder. "We better stop talking or he'll write an article about it."

My family was huddled together, sharing a mirror, doing their morning hair/ makeup/ earrings thing. I had wandered in, following the laughing voices.

For the past two decades, I've written close to 150 Front Porch essays on familiar themes ranging from chickens to blueberries, full moons to families. Each time, I shared my story ideas first with my wife and daughters, and always let them read the final draft before I hit the "send" button. My permission-granted rate dropped radically between the 2s and the teens.

My computer is across the hall from our kids' rooms. When she was little, our youngest daughter had a particular bedtime routine. We kissed and hugged good night, said "Sweet dreams, I love you." Then she always raised her sleepy head one final time, "And you'll check on me, right?"

I would tiptoe across the hall and write while she fell asleep. As she got older, we laughed and said goodnight in shorthand, "Love, love. Check on." Now we text message the same way.

The Porches became a journal or diary for me. I was writing what I really cared about. Over time, I had a dozen or so editors at the Indy and a few more at Carolina Parent and The News & Observer, when I wrote an Our Lives column. Our conversations, especially as deadlines loomed, were always insightful. One editor asked if I would use my children's names, commenting that it would really add to the pieces.

But I wanted to write pieces that were about everyday experiences, celebrating the ordinary. A father and a daughter. A moon. A dog. The same things that have happened to me and mine in the last 20 years have probably happened to you and yours. I wanted to note the routines, to really notice the significance of the day-to-day. To embrace the repeated pattern of nature. And everywhere, there was metaphor. Every gardener knows the planting, watering, harvesting cycle is tender nurturance. You learn to get it right.

Another editor loved doing the titles. Well, so did I. But he really got it right so many times that I started sending over untitled pieces just to find out what I was really writing about.

I think of one editor as the Comma Girl. She punches up my submissions every time, always making me sound better. Believe me, the right comma added in the right place—it's an epiphany, is what it is.

One of my favorite Porches, about catching falling leaves, ran twice in consecutive blustery Octobers. There's one about my mother that I can't read aloud now without choking up.

I have scraps of paper with scribbled notes for story ideas all over my desk. Some are just titles. (I used to love reading the Village Voice for their totally hip titles. I hated it when I didn't get it.)

Front Porches became my own Check-On. Did an idea have traction? Will it get crushed by the family veto at breakfast? Why do I like chickens so much anyway? Aren't they a little played out? Nope. Think about it: one egg, every day. That's serious ... and that's 550 words.

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