once upon a time.

Dear Hadley and Harper,

The American Century Dictionary defines romance as “literary works suggesting romantic love, adventurous actions, etc.” Its accompanying thesaurus tells us that synonyms for romance include, “mystery, thriller, intrigue, imagination,” and even “nonsense.”

This is the lamest way to begin an essay. I have an MFA in Creative Writing and I should be ashamed of myself.

But before the time comes when your heart is pulled, when it leaps at the sight of someone who gives you the butterflies and makes your cheeks flush (Dear God, it hasn’t happened yet, has it?), I want you to know that while romance might be all about holding hands and smooches, mix tapes and daisies, while it might hold thrills and mystery, it is the best sort of story; a story you can’t – and don’t want to - turn away from.

Once upon a time, on a Christmas day, after presents had been opened, coffee and tea had been drunk and the breakfast dishes had been loaded in the dishwasher, a boy handed me a stack of books on writing.

“I found these at the library,” he said setting down the pile on the bed. The books toppled and splayed over the blanket. I leaned into the mattress and read the titles: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

“I was looking for Numerical Solutions of Partial Differential Equations and found an entire section of books on writing,” he said. “These books sounded like something you’d enjoy.” I spent the next several days making notes on how to write, jotting down ideas for stories, and wondering what it would be like to be a writer. To this day, those loaned books are one of my favorite gifts from him. 

Once upon a time a 9lb 10oz baby was born. “It’s a girl!” The doctor cried. “What’s her name?” he asked as the nurses fussed over our brand new daughter. “Hadley Grace,” I said for the first time. Hadley Grace. Good gracious, you cried and cried and I couldn’t do anything but study you longingly from a few feet away. The boy walked over and leaned his head into a space between where the nurses were cleaning you up. “Hadley Grace,” he cooed, “don’t cry, Daddy’s here.” He said his new name and your new name at the same time, and you stopped crying.

Once upon a time there was a birthday party. It was a dinosaur and princess birthday party because one of you loved princesses and the other loved dinosaurs so the boy found Make-Your-Own-Tiara kits and made a dinosaur dig complete with sand, lab glasses, and aluminum pie plates.

A hurricane was making its way up the eastern coast and was set to hit New York City sometime over the weekend. The boy, who has a PhD in hurricane storm surge and who reports to people like the POTUS took the Friday before the birthday party to help with preparations. But by mid-afternoon he was on his fifth or sixth conference call, making sure his lab understood what to look out for and who to report to. The boy told his office he would be there Saturday. “But not until the evening,” he told them, “ I need to know you know what to do because I will be unavailable most of the day.”

The boy set up streamers, blew up balloons (pink for one of you and blue for the other, your favorite colors). He made a dance party playlist and set out snacks and party favors. He helped kids pronounce the dinosaurs they found: Alamosaurus and Gracilliceratops. He piled up birthday presents in the back of the car.

That night he went back into work and wouldn’t be back until late Sunday night to sleep for a few hours then go back until the storm was over. When he returned, he would sit on the floor with you two and play with the new Barbies and color with the new crayons. “The storm took the route our runs said it would take,” he said, and seeing him, I remembered Katrina, his first hurricane out of graduate school. He came home in the middle of the night after working on runs and testing models, sat down at our kitchen table and put his head in his hands. “All those people,” he murmured but couldn’t finish his thought. The night of the other hurricane, I watched the boy sitting on the floor, helping you put on Barbie boots and drawing a brontosaurus and thinking about “all those people.”

Once upon a time, the boy and I went to Georgetown to eat at Tackle Box and then walk along the Potomac. The evening was warm and I was wearing flip-flops, my favorite shoes. You see me a lot in heels and you know I love me some high heels, but when I’m wearing flip-flops I feel daring and carefree. And so I kicked the boy under the table as we were eating catfish and French fries. “I think I want to be a writer,” I told him. “I think I’m going to apply to grad school.”

“Go for it,” the boy said.

I took a sip of beer and kicked him again. “I’m going to write about hurricanes.”

The boy smirked and rolled his eyes, which made me decide that I will write about hurricanes someday.

“Do you think I can do it? Do you think I’ll write books someday?” We walked along the river towards Watergate and the Kennedy Center.

“I think you can, and I think it’s OK to try and to see what happens.”

My dear Hadley and Harper, may your life be full of mystery and intrigue. May it be confusing and imaginative and packed with surprises. May it make you giddy and may you experience the wonderful nonsense of it all. May you find someone to share it all with. Someone who you can’t  - and don’t want to – turn away from. 

May your lives be ridiculously romantic.  


Written by Callie Feyen. Photo by Sarah Thornhill