Tom Walljasper's National Hug Your Kid Day


I woke up Friday with a gentle rain tapping on the shingles just outside my second-story north window. A breeze carrying the fresh smell of a fall rain brushed in through the bedroom about four feet up. Right across my face as I laid in bed.

It woke me up. Typically, that makes me want to curl up and go back to sleep.

But this time it did something different.

I reached for my phone and messaged a friend saying there’s something special to a morning rain. The smell is just different. I got a message back right away saying they hated the smell of rain on pavement.

Yeah, because it’s mixed with oil and dirt and you get a whiff of that. But when the breeze blows through the rain at about 15 feet in the air, it’s more pure and allows the alveoli in the lungs to open wider – take it all in. It just seems to have more ‘air’ in the air.

I needed more air on this particular Friday the 13th.

Nothing spooky to me in that date, it’s just a crap day in October. Our daughter would have been 24 today.

I bought a cake and sat in the kitchen and let the candles burn almost all the way down. I realized I would eventually want some of that cake and didn’t want it to be waxy. So I prayed to the kid that should, in a perfect world, be laughing with friends and tearing into wrapping paper. I prayed that she make a wish – there are birthdays in heaven and if there’s not, there should be. Whatever she wanted I would do my best to get for her, but she’d have to come to me in my dreams and tell me what it is.

I sat waiting for some divine gust to come in and blow out the candles. It didn’t happen. Those tiny upside-down teardrop flames just burned motionless. There was a 2 and a 4 and the flames were so still, they almost looked at me.

I didn’t feel myself cry, but one tear leaked down my left cheek. I just let it go. It was intrusive and seemed a little like something trying to start some sort of pity thing. I was celebrating damnit. No tears. I would like to think that was Kelsey’s wish. No tears. I blew the candles out for her – hoping she made a wish that I could help launch.

Then I realized I forgot to take a picture. Taylor would love to see that. So I relit the candles and let them burn down a little more. I took a picture with my phone and texted it to Taylor in New York City.

“LOVE” was what she sent back right away.

“Except you had cake without me XDDDD”

“I had to.”

Three and a half years ago she celebrated her last birthday. She was 20 years old. I made sure she had the chance to enjoy things in life before she was old enough to drink. Going off to college, her mother and I let her find a drink that she liked. I found it with some liqueur and soda. Nothing heavy and she never, ever, had more than one. But with her diabetes, we wanted to make sure she understood the impact of alcohol on her blood sugar and her well being. Call it bad parents doing good parenting.

I’m going to make one of those drinks tonight. I never really liked it, but it brings me closer to her.

Sitting here writing this, I’m thinking there’s no message in this this week. I’m not pontificating on politics, or economics, or Fort Madison, or Lee County. I’m just writing.

On this day, where I again get to mourn the loss of a beautiful and motivated child, I have no message. One thing does come to mind and that’s Tom Walljasper’s post the other day that he was unofficially claiming the day as National Hug Your Kid Day. Tom said he has no authority to claim the day. I disagree. We all have the authority. As a matter of fact, there SHOULD be a National Hug Your Kid Day. No gifts and a narrative around the day that tells our children the rules. They get hugged. They don’t get to pull away, but they can, if they so choose, hug parents back and not be rushed to get away.

And there can’t be a proclamation, it’s a parents-only game. We hug, you accept. You put something official in place and these generation y’ers will just rebel. Make ‘em take it. Make ‘em soak it in. Whisper you love them in their ear and see what happens. If it’s odd for you or uncomfortable because “that’s not who you are”, suck it up.

Most of you don’t know what people like Tom and I know. Many of you do. And I would bet everyone one of us would tell you this. You don’t know. You don’t ever wanna know. But we do, and our advice, which is sage in the least, is to grab on, and hold on.

So here’s to the Pen City Current sponsored “Tom Walljasper Hug Your Kid Day.”

And tonight it’ll be birthday cake and an Apple Pucker cocktail to close out the evening – But that’s Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of the Pen City Current. He can be reached at

Fort Madison, Tom Walljasper, Pen City Current, Beside the Point, editorial, Sunday, Kelsey Vandenberg, birthday, National Hug Your Kid Day, death, tragedy


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