Archive for the ‘Favorties’ Category

McKenna’s Commencement

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

McKenna's Senior Photo

Daughter McKenna graduates from high school in a couple of weeks. We’re excited for her journey ahead. She’s committed to attending Creighton University and has been accepted into their School of Nursing. Even though she’ll be going to college in her home town, she’ll stay in the dorm to fully integrate into campus life. Her dad and I are very proud of her and the path she has chosen to pursue.

Before letting her go, I must take time to reflect on how she came to be our daughter.

You might have read how Allen and I adopted McKenna’s older sister, Kellini. When we decided to find a sibling for our first-born child, it was as though McKenna dropped from Heaven into our laps.

Best Christmas Present EVER

We learned of McKenna’s impending birth through a relative of a friend while we were visiting Allen’s family in West Virginia for Christmas 1993. Our friend explained that the birth mother was working with an adoption agency in New England, but we still had a chance at the baby since the mother was considering an open adoption and preferred one with a West Virginian.

Score one point for us because of Allen’s heritage.

Score another point because our friend, Rob Adkins, was an attorney and could steer us around legal bombs while his wife, Rhonda acted as our liaison with the mother.

Within days, we snagged an interview with McKenna’s birth mother, “Sheila,” who was still ten weeks away from her due date. We drove six hours out of our way home to have a face-to-face talk with her. We met in the home she shared temporarily with her brother and his family.

Our Audition

It took considerable effort to look rested, which I wasn’t after having spent the holidays 1000 miles away from my own bed and bath in the home of my in-laws. Don’t get me wrong. I dearly love Allen’s family. And they dearly love me and Kellini. But taking Christmas on the road with a 20-month-old toddler is challenging at best.

I recognized this meeting with Sheila for what it was—a calculated risk. Unlike our interview with Kellini’s birth mom, this young woman could actually watch our parenting skills and base her decision on our actions.  Even if she did choose us, she would have over two months to change her mind. There were no guarantees.

Adding to our family was worth the risks.

Soon after the introductions, Kellini broke a toy belonging to Sheila’s niece.

Deduct one point from our parenting score sheet.

We offered to replace the toy, silently worrying if the gesture could legally constitute a bribe. Sheila and her sister-in-law, “Bonnie” declined our offer.

Damn the courts; we’d send a new toy from Omaha anyway. We planned to mail it in a box wrapped in plain, brown paper along with the “birth mother letter.”

Prize Winning Story

For those of you unfamiliar with open adoptions, this letter is a résumé adoptive candidates write to sway the birth mother and secure an interview.

The letter is a sales tool, of sorts. It introduces the adoptive parents listing our parenting philosophy, financial health, and emotional commitment to the baby. It’s generally used as a first step in the open adoption process.

I had to rewrite our “standard” letter to reflect the fact we’d already met Sheila. It was the hardest revision I’ve ever made. I agonized over the wording for three days. Finally, the edits were complete and approved by Allen—this venture’s Managing Editor.

I’d decided a typed letter was too formal. Handwritten was best and my penmanship was decent, so I felt confident. I used special bond lavender paper with little butterflies in the upper corner. During our visit, Kellini had told Sheila that she loved butterflies. I’d made a mental note of Sheila’s smile.

Because of handwriting errors, I recopied the letter twice. I wanted the document (and me) to seem perfect. Each time my penmanship got shakier. Finally, I gave up. Stuffed the letter in its matching envelope and stuck it in the box with the new toy. Convinced I was in a race with the adoption agency, I shipped the package to West Virginia using FedEx. Overnight delivery.

Six years old at Disneyworld

We Waited

I wanted to call Rhonda, but Allen stopped me. Pressure, even via casual inquiry, was not a good tactical move, he said. I acquiesced and tried not to get too excited. At least this time, I had Kellini to keep me busy.

If we didn’t get chosen for this baby, we had the best gift already. Our sweet Kellini Anita. Her smile kept me going the three weeks it took to hear back from West Virginia.

In late January, we had Sheila’s decision. She’d chosen us to be the adoptive parents. I cried with her on the phone. She promised to call when the baby was born. I promised we’d come ASAP to West Virginia because she wanted to be sure the baby had an advocate before she left the hospital.

Sheila went on to say she wanted nothing to do with the baby. She wouldn’t be holding it after delivery; didn’t even want to know the sex. She couldn’t imagine giving away a child after she’d had a chance to bond with it.

Who was I to judge the method she chose to protect her feelings?

Kellini meets her sister. She still didn't get it.

Getting Ready for Baby

We prepared by shifting Kellini out of her crib to a “big girl” bed. Maybe it’s easier to explain this upcoming change to kids when you have visual aids—i.e. an expanding belly where the new baby brother or sister is growing. Kellini did NOT get it.

On Friday, February 11, 1994, Allen and I dropped Kellini off for a sleep-over with my mom so we could celebrate Valentine’s Day early. When we arrived home at 10:00 p.m., a message waited for us on our answering machine. Sheila was in labor.

What! A month early?

We had no number to use to return the call since cell phones weren’t common then. So we had to wait. In the meantime, I called the airline to book reservations for immediate departure to West Virginia. I got the airline recording instructing me to “hold for the next available agent.”

I sat in the kitchen with the phone glued to my ear for twenty minutes. Finally, I pushed the speaker button so I could hear when the agent came on the line. I ran to start a load of laundry and grab the suitcases.

Allen had gone to bed. See how perspective fathers are calmer even when focused breathing and ice chips aren’t involved?

Convinced I’d made all possible arrangements, I went to bed at 2:30. Fitfully, I tossed until I gave into exhaustion and fell asleep. I didn’t rest soundly since I waited for the phone to ring announcing the birth of our new son or daughter.

At 5:30 a.m., I jumped up with a start. I realized I hadn’t disconnected the call I’d made to the airline. The telephone had been off the hook all night long!

I ran to the kitchen and grabbed the receiver. Disengaged the speaker feature. The “on hold” music still played. Since I’d worked for years at a hotel reservation center, I mentally calculated how much money the airline had just lost in unproductive “talk time” during the past several hours. Then I hung up the phone and waited for the call from the delivery room.

Had I already missed it? I paced. Made coffee. Paced some more.

I tried to awaken Allen, but he was having none of my panic attack. He instructed me to rouse him when I had news. I can now look back and appreciate his judicious delegation of worry.

Sheila’s sister-in-law called at 6:30. My heart stopped. We exchanged pleasantries and Bonnie passed the phone to Sheila who congratulated us on the birth of our new daughter.

No Time to Cry

I woke up Allen.

We went into commando mode. Time to move the troops. Allen finished packing. I called the airline, then called my mom who assured me she would have Kellini bathed and ready to travel by 8:30 to be picked up on our way to the airport for our 10 a.m. flight.

Allen called his mom to notify her of our impending arrival. We would stay with his parents for the length of time it would take to process the initial legal papers to adopt McKenna Frances—as we’d already named our beautiful new daughter.

Maw-maw Hager didn’t have time to cry either. She needed to get her house ready for a newborn. She’d have to borrow a bassinet, run to the store to buy diapers. What size, she wanted to know.

Now, here’s the deal. We were doing all this hoop-jumping with only a birth mother’s promise and faith in our commitment to become McKenna’s parents.

All that shook loose and tumbled to the floor when we walked into Sheila’s hospital room and she was holding the baby, feeding her from a bottle. A quick glance around and my eye caught two baby presents and the crumpled wrapping paper they’d been wearing when delivered.

It was as though the universe had taken my joy, dropped it into a blender, and pushed the start button. Had Sheila changed her mind? Would we be returning to Kellini with an empty car seat? How could we explain to a toddler that she wouldn’t get the baby sister we’d promised her?

I took a deep breath and forced a smile. Greeted Sheila and Bonnie.

Sheila put aside the bottle, fumbling with the baby as an inexperienced mother does when shifting a newborn. I wanted to jump over the bed rail to support the baby’s head. Nervously, I waited for Sheila’s cue how to proceed.

She beckoned me, held up the baby and said, “I’d like to introduce you to McKenna Frances Hager.” She kissed the baby and continued, “McKenna, meet your mom. “

She passed me the infant and I held our daughter for the first time. Silent and petite, she barely moved in my arms. I wanted to rip apart the receiving blanket to count fingers and toes and to smell her newborn freshness.

I Refrained

Sheila later explained the gifts were from friends who had mistakenly assumed she’d keep the baby. She gave Allen the new diaper bag and bibs and then warned us. The birth father had shown up at the hospital, looking to take the baby home with him.

It was still Sheila’s intention to give us McKenna because she was in no position to care for her. She had no job. No home of her own. And neither did the birth father, “Clark.” But because she didn’t want McKenna to go to Clark by default, she wouldn’t sign the papers relinquishing her parental rights unless guaranteed McKenna wouldn’t end up with the birth father.

For three days we commuted back and forth the three hours each way from Allen’s parents’ home in Huntington to the hospital. (Kellini stayed with Allen’s sister, Anita, who’d taken time off from work to watch her favorite niece.)

The birth father requested to meet with us. We did so in a hospital conference room. Clark was a tall, boldly handsome man. He was soft-spoken, young (21) and really confused about the decisions and consequences facing him.

At one point Allen and I were paying for the services of three attorneys all sitting in different cities trying to untangle the legal aspects of the case.

Several times, our own attorney advised us to walk away.

Feeding McKenna in our hospital room.

When we weren’t in courtrooms or on legal conference calls, we fed, rocked, and bathed McKenna. The hospital had given us an empty room on the maternity floor and brought McKenna to us whenever we asked. In a quick heartbeat I’d fallen in love with her and had no intention of leaving her behind.

While we could choose whether or not to take our attorney’s advice, we knew we had to follow the law. West Virginia had a 72-hour waiting period after a child’s birth before the parents could relinquish their rights. Increasingly, our chances of obtaining legal claim to McKenna seemed to diminish.

The drive back to Huntington those first two nights was excruciating. For three hours in transit we discussed our options and McKenna’s future—with and without us. And we cried.

On the third day, the hospital was anxious to discharge McKenna since she was healthy enough to be released. There was still adoption paperwork left to sign. Finally, at 5 p.m. all interested parties assembled in one crowded conference room in a small law practice off main street. Attorneys for the birth mother and father were present. Our attorney was on stand-by in Omaha.

Then Clark requested one last private meeting with Allen and me.


As the three of us shuffled down a narrow hall, I wondered, what now?

At 6’3” he towered over me in a tiny room filled with filing cabinets. He cleared his throat. “Mrs. Hager,” he started, “have you spent a lot of time with the baby in the last few days?”

“Yes,” I answered, fighting back my fear.

He took out a 5 X 7, black and white photo printed on heavy matte stock paper. He handed it to me and explained, “This is a picture of me right after I was born. Does the baby look like me?”

I took the photo and stared at it through misty eyes. McKenna had the same dark complexion, the same dark hair. Her eyes were the same shape as Clark’s.

“Yes, she looks a lot like you.” I offered the photo back to him.

He shook his head and refused it. “No. You keep it. For McKenna. Give it to her when she’s old enough and tell her it’s from me.”

It was the most precious gift anyone could have given our baby.

I barely kept myself together through the signing of all the paperwork in the attorney’s office. The rest of the day and the next two days until we boarded the plane home are a blur. Thankfully, we have photos taken by Allen’s family commemorating the important “firsts” of those hectic days.

The drama was worth it

Later this month, as we celebrate McKenna’s achievements—graduation, honor roll, many scholarship offers—I will hold in my heart special gratitude for the sacrifices and selfless decisions of her birth parents. I’m sure they both will be thinking of her and wishing her all their love and many blessings for the future.

Kellini finally gets it. Christmas 2011.


Saturday, April 21st, 2012

Sweet baby Kellini

I have eight daughters.

Yes, you read that correctly—eight daughters.  They entered my life in non-traditional ways.

The first one, Kellini, came very easily in April of 1992.  Only forty-six hours of hard labor.  That’s the span of time between the phone call we received from the obstetrician an hour after he delivered her, and the minute I first held her in the adoption attorney’s parking garage.

The first forty hours after notification, her dad and I tried not to get too excited.  We’d been down the road before with babies who had been promised to us, but never delivered.

We had a nursery filled with new furniture that we’d purchased when I’d convinced myself (and almost convinced Allen) that the woman we talked to during a freak snow storm in October 1991, was going to give us the twins she was carrying.

Twenty years ago, when Kellini came into our lives, adoption was very different than it is now.  Consider that statement to be my assumption because I haven’t been part of anyone’s adoption journey for the last thirteen years.   One thing is certain; there was no internet, no email, and no Facebook available to us.

Back then, we told everyone we knew that we were looking to adopt a baby.  Allen worked at a hospital and diligently networked with the doctors there.  Not only did we advertise in the Omaha World-Herald, but also in strategic newspapers nationwide.  I tried to write a clever ad that would tug at a pregnant woman’s heartstrings.  It started something like “Teddy Bear wallpaper lines the nursery, but the crib is empty…”

It didn’t seem cheesy at the time.  The ad was one of three columns of similar appeals in our local newspaper.  Every Sunday, the classified page started with column after column of notices from couples looking to adopt.

Do You Want Fries With That?

We even worked up the nerve to pull aside the pregnant teenager who cashiered for us at a fast food restaurant.  Based on the evidence—no wedding ring, her distressed look—we took a calculated risk that we wouldn’t get tossed out the door by the police.

Sure, it was a hopeful act of two desperate people.  We convinced ourselves it was in the baby’s best interest.  Many people do crazy things in the name of love.

I’ll never forget the conversation.  The teen was amazingly open with us, telling us that she had considered giving up her child for adoption.  Until her brother was murdered the previous month.  Swallowing hard, she said she couldn’t give up her parents’ first grandchild after they had just lost their own son.

Even as I write this, I can still see the pain and grief on the woman’s face.  The burden of her loss and her decision to keep a baby she was unprepared to raise was apparent in her slumped shoulders.

Allen and I NEVER again stalked a pregnant woman. And we never gave up hope we would eventually become parents.

My Baby Hope Chest

Some of you might remember a time when girls received cedar-lined hope chests upon high school graduation.  My mother had one.  The idea was simple.  A young woman would place family heirlooms along with bargain household goods she might buy to use in her first apartment.  I inherited my grandmother’s cedar chest and stuffed it with linens and dishes—just in case I moved out before marriage.

The nursery became my baby hope chest.  Some of the dresser drawers held cute, unisex outfits I’d collected in the ten months we’d been searching for a child to adopt.

I’d picked up a tiny T-shirt on a weekend adventure with my two girlfriends to San Diego.  It was primary blue with a dolphin on the front.  Appropriate for a girl or a boy.  That same weekend, my friends and I visited Psychic Melinda who had an office across the street from the restaurant where we dined.  She charged me twenty dollars and told me I’d never have a child.  I paid an extra twenty buck to argue the point with her.

That’s when I bought the dolphin T-shirt.

Occasionally, I’d run across a sale on baby paraphernalia and I’d pick up a bib, blanket, or a sleeper.  I washed them and arranged them in the drawer in preparation.  I KNEW I’d be a mother someday, some way.

Allen tried to dissuade me from getting too far ahead of myself.  I don’t know if he thought it would jinx us or whether he didn’t want to see the day when I’d become discouraged by looking at the loot in my “baby hope chest.”


The call did come and it was from a reputable source—a doctor.  He said the birth mother would contact an adoption attorney who would notify Allen.  The steps proceeded as planned.

We meet Kellini in Larry Batt's office

Kellini was born on a Tuesday.  The birth mother wanted to meet with us at the attorney’s office on Thursday morning.  If she approved of us, we could have a baby sleeping in our home on Thursday evening.

The possibility was as scary as it was exhilarating.

What if the young birth mother didn’t like us?  Conceivably, she could march out of the attorney’s office, return to the hospital to collect her baby, and we’d never hear from her again.

The meeting with Kellini’s birth mom went well, albeit there were many emotional and strained moments.  We felt confident enough that she would sign the papers relinquishing custody that we dashed to the store to buy a car seat, a battery-powered baby swing, and bumper pads for the crib.  (I said it was a different era.)

As nervous, expectant parents, we also purchased a high chair.  (Don’t roll your eyes.  We didn’t know any better.)

Neither Allen nor I had an appetite as we ordered lunch at the Flakey Jakes (now Fuddruckers) next to the USA Baby store.   A cooler head prevailed as Allen refused my appeals for him to call the attorney, Larry Batt, to see if the mother signed the papers.

An eternity passed before the call came from Mr. Batt.  We had many papers to sign at his downtown office before he would leave us to pick up Kellini from the hospital.

Grammy was surprised

During his absence, we phoned our employers to notify them.  We called my mom and asked if we could drop by her house later to visit.  We surprised her with Kellini at the door.  She cried.  We phoned Allen’s parents from my mom’s house.  His mom cried, too.

A Friend’s Wisdom

My daughters came to me in non-traditional ways—through adoption and by marriage.  I believe most mothers would tell you the mother-child bond grows in the heart, not in the womb.

I worked with Paula Hansen for five years before I left the corporate world to become a full-time mother upon Kellini’s birth.   Paula is one of those perfect friends.  She’s warm, funny, compassionate, and wise.  She’s one of those eternal friends I’m blessed to have.  Even if we haven’t seen each other for years, we can pick up a conversation as though we had started it yesterday.

For a while, Paula and I swapped updates on our struggles with infertility.  We cheered each other on as only women will do.  She dropped out of the race when she and her husband became pregnant.  Upon returning from maternity leave, Paula shared with me a profound truth.  In a hushed voice, as if telling a secret, she explained that falling in love with your child doesn’t happen all at once; it’s a process.

My maternal love started with a desire to be a parent when I married for the first time in my twenties.  That desire didn’t end with my divorce three years later.  On the contrary, the yearning grew until at age thirty-two and still single, I discussed artificial insemination with my OB/GYN.  I dumped the doctor after he advised me to lose fifteen pounds, find a husband, and go about parenthood the natural way.

I took a practice run at motherhood when I adopted my dog, Tavi.  As many young people do, I called her my baby.  Even shared my angst with my colleagues at a Department Managers’ meeting the day Tavi was in surgery to be spayed.  Unprovoked by me, that story got recorded in the meeting minutes as the entry, “We wish the best for Terry’s daughter after her recent surgery.”  I thought it was funny until the company President pulled me aside to offer his condolences.

At the risk of alienating my dog-loving friends, I have to confess.  Owning a dog is NOTHING like being a mother.  Believe me when I say I never cried when Tavi got her rabies shot.  Yet, the first time the pediatrician poked Kellini’s chubby thigh with a needle, her cries stabbed straight through to my heart.


To Be Continued…

In future essays, I’ll explain how our other daughter, McKenna, came to Allen and me.  That was a bumpier labor and delivery, but then don’t all babies come to their families in their own, unique ways?

I’ll explain how my six step-daughters came into my life.  Full-grown, lovely, and competent women, my love for them continues to grow.  The love is not based on biology nor was it built during their childhoods.  Nevertheless, my love for them is a cherished part of me.  It nourishes and enhances the love I have for their father, my husband, Alden Lee.

My Dog, Tavi

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Lately, I’ve had the privilege of helping my nephew and niece (Andy and Elizabeth Myers) as they expand their businesses. I’m excited to be their coach because it takes me back to the time when my own business partner, Allen Hager, and I started Right at Home.

At Allen’s suggestion, I’m guiding Andy and Elizabeth through the steps outlined in Michael Gerber’s book, The E-Myth Revisited. His book was on the best-seller list in the 1990s and the concepts were never truer than they are now. Gerber explains the Entrepreneurial Model for successful business development.

For this week’s assignment, I asked Andy and Elizabeth to look for examples of exceptional customer service. They are to document their experiences to discuss at our next meeting.  Yes, I used to be a corporate trainer.

Back in the day, we called this process “benchmarking.” Since I’ve been entrenched in writing fiction for the last decade, I couldn’t say if this term is still used. (Maybe my corporate training friends could leave a comment below to let me know.)


Because Andy’s and Elizabeth’s businesses relate to using intuition, I often quote Aristotle, the Father of Metaphysics, to illustrate a point. Today’s quote is, “Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.”

Just the other day, I was reminded of a personal instance of exceptional customer service.

I ran into the veterinarian who cared for my two dogs and two cats for over 17 years. She is Dr. Barbara Teter, co-founder of The Pet Clinic in Omaha, Nebraska. And although my last pet, dog Henry Hager died five years ago, I’ll never forget the extraordinary service I received at Dr. Teter’s office.

I recall several fond memories of The Pet Clinic. The front desk staff had a wonderful way of greeting patients. They called clients by “Mr. or Mrs.” Everyone was pleasant. The office was kept exceptionally clean.  They had free treats for the pets. The technicians were patient and tender with reluctant animals. All this was remarkable enough, but what sealed me to Dr. Teter’s practice forever was the response she had to the emotional call I made letting her know it was time to euthanize my dog, Tavi.

Tavi and me

My Beloved Dog

I adopted Tavi from the animal shelter when she was three months old. She was a German Shepherd/Golden Retriever mix with some other breed combined that kept her a slim 25-pounds. She was sweet, a little timid, and as fast as a greyhound.

Tavi was the first “unflushable” pet I ever had. Growing up, my brothers and I begged for a dog, but my parents didn’t want long-term pets. So we made do with temporary animals—fish, sea horses, a hamster, and a bird.

I had no clue how to handle a dog, so I read books and employed a trainer to help me. A former Marine, he’d trained German Shepherds for years. His regimented methods seemed harsh, but I used them because I didn’t know any better. (Where was “The Dog Whisperer” when I needed him?)

Tavi and I mastered housebreaking very quickly, which puffed up my confidence.


I left my fiancé, Allen Hager, in charge of Tavi when I went out of town on business. While he was at work, Tavi ate a couch. Well, only the back side and one corner.

This prompted another visit to the dog trainer. We began kenneling Tavi when we weren’t home until she was older and more settled.

At seven months, we left a calmer Tavi to roam free in the house while we went to dinner. She ate half a sofa cushion. Thankfully, it belonged to the partially eaten sofa. We flipped the cushion over and no one was the wiser until we had a houseful of post-wedding guests and one of them re-flipped the cushion for a more comfortable seat.

Eventually, Tavi settled down to become a wonderful family pet. We adopted dog Henry to join two cats, Calvin and Emily, completing our animal family.

Our daughters Kellini and McKenna came later. The girls adored the pets and our family was complete.

Doesn't Tavi look regal?


When Tavi was fourteen, she developed kidney failure. My marriage was on the rocks and I confided in Tavi more than anyone else. I wasn’t ready to let her “go,” so Dr. Teter taught me how to give Tavi IV infusions to flush her kidneys and keep her hydrated. Allen and I gave Tavi the infusions three times a week. That, along with a special homemade diet of rice, eggs, and hamburger kept her going an additional five months.

But she was suffering. Finally, I came to realize I was being selfish, only prolonging the inevitable. Tavi relied upon me to give her relief and I’d let her down.

I called Dr. Teter. I told her that it “was time.” Told her that I worried because this was going to be the first family member Kellini (age 10) and McKenna (8) were going to lose.

Dr. Teter offered to come to our home, after hours, at the end of her shift, to put Tavi down.

You can imagine my relief not to have to drive my beloved dog to a clinic, walking her through a lobby full of strangers. I knew I’d be a mess of emotions and no doubt I’d break down into sobs in the treatment room. This offer was heaven-sent.

I prepared the girls and myself for the event. On her last day with us, we snuggled with Tavi non-stop. I swear she knew what was going to happen and she showed her gratitude for my decision by playing more with us that day than she had in the several weeks before. She even raced ahead of Henry to chase a squirrel up a tree, giving us a glimpse of times past when she was a puppy.

Too soon, Dr. Teter arrived at 10pm. She explained the procedure. Slowly. Calmly. She didn’t rush us. After we all had said our good-byes, I sat on the couch, cradling Tavi on my lap.  Dr. Teter kneeled by my side to administer the final injection. It was a sad but peaceful end. A private one shared by our family. It was the environment we’d needed to say farewell to our beloved friend.

I’ll be forever grateful to Dr. Barb Teter for the caring she showed and the dignity she allowed us. When it was over, we wrapped Tavi in a special blanket my mother had croqueted and Dr. Teter took Tavi with her.

Over the years, I’ve wondered how many similar house calls Dr. Teter has made. Obviously, she didn’t have to extend herself to us. Certainly, it would have been more comfortable for her to have euthanized Tavi on the examining table in her office. During office hours.  But she’d come to our home and into our hearts with a special gentleness. She’d made Tavi’s transition a loving and humane lesson for our daughters.

For that, I’ll be forever grateful.

And I would never take an animal anywhere else for treatment. Because no vet’s character could be more persuasive than that of Dr. Barb Teter.  No professional could have shown more dedication.  My family and I could not have been treated any better.

Aristotle also said, “A true friend is one soul in two bodies.” If you’ve ever had a dog, you know the deepest meaning of this quotation.


Below is the link for Dr. Barb Teter’s practice at The Pet Clinic.  While Dr. Teter will always be my favorite, all the veterinarians there are exceptional.  They’d have to be.  Because they work alongside Dr. Teter.

The Name Game

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Growing up, I had a love/hate relationship with my name. My paternal grandparents, whom I saw often, proudly called me Teryl or Teryl Diane. Not because of anything I did to deserve admiration, although I was a pretty amazing kid. They liked the name because their son tagged me with it.

Author Zane Grey

My dad named me after the heroine in a Zane Grey western he’d read as a boy. West of the Pecos was copyrighted in 1931 and reprinted in 1938, when my father was eleven. It is part of the five-book collection he received for his birthday or Christmas. I assume it came from his parents, or possibly his Aunt Irene, as she doted on him. She had more money than my grandparents, but that’s not saying much since my father grew up in the Depression. Most everyone my family knew lived hand to mouth. How the books became his “library” is pure speculation since there is no surviving relative with whom I can verify my assumptions.

Notice how I used quotation marks around “library?” It’s a writing device to catch the reader’s attention. Did it work?

These five Zane Grey novels, which proudly sit on my shelf, were the only books my father ever owned as a boy.

Impossible to imagine, right?

Getting back to my love/hate relationship. Everyone called me Teryl through kindergarten. On the initial day of first grade, tragedy erupted. This is how I remember the scene.

Teacher: “Is James Miller in the room?”

James: “Here.”

Teacher: “Debra Moore?”

Debra: “Present.”

Teacher: “T..Te..Ter…Turtle.. Tur-rell Myers”

You can see why the children laughed and I cringed.

Embarrassed, I clarified it for her. Teryl rhymes with Cheryl. It’s a phrase I’ve repeated often as most people have never run across my unique moniker. I don’t want people to feel stupid if they mispronounce my name, so I try to preempt the embarrassment.

Teryl rhymes with Cheryl. Everybody knows a Cheryl.

For a while, in the last decade, I joined some dating services. I wanted potential suitors to be surprised, a little jolted, definitely intrigued by my unusual name. I hoped to stand out in the crowd. I updated my mantra to sound more alluring. “Teryl rhymes with Meryl—as in Meryl Streep.” Imagine my sexy impersonation of the great actress—in say, “The French Lieutenant’s Woman.”

Teryl, as in Meryl—Meryl Streep.

I never want to leave a reader hanging, so let me finish the story of poor Turtle Myers. The teacher gained control of the raucous six-year-olds with a firm, “Settle down, now.”

Snickers lingered.

My parents, Clarence and Frances Myers. I'm there, too.

On the spot, I made up my nickname, “Terry.”

You might think it odd that I chose the boy’s spelling of the name. I didn’t know any better. Most girls, as I soon discovered, spell the name with an “i” –Teri or Terri. After several people pointed that out, shame forced me to switch the spelling to Terrie. That iteration lasted the first semester of third grade.

I could tell you that I’d cleverly extracted the “y” from Teryl for my nickname. At six years old, I wasn’t that shrewd. I spelled it that way because my mother spelled her nickname with a “y.” My mom, Frances Jeraldean Myers, had been nicknamed “Jerry.” (That’s a story for later.)

Over the years, a few friends have called me Teryl, and I like it, but most people call me Terry. I sat in a quandary for months trying to figure out what name to use for publication. Terry or Teryl? Or maybe a pseudonym.? For a while, I spent more time trying to decide on my pen name than I did writing the book of my heart.

One friend, Joe Lipsey, suggested the nom de plume, “Palmer Grayson,” because he thought it sounded very sophisticated, gender neutral, and could work with whatever genre I finally decided to write—romance or mystery. I hadn’t chosen one yet. (Yes, I was at that confusing stage of writing.)

Another friend, Ann Adams, suggested I use “Mya Dane” – cleverly crafted from my maiden name, Myers, and my middle name, Diane. It sounded like a perfect pseudonym until I Googled it and found a porn star had already snagged the name for her professional use.

The same witty friend also suggested the pseudonym, Stephen King, since that author had suspended (temporarily, thank God) his writing career.

When push came to shove, and I’d finally found a publishing home for my first novel, Luck of the Draw, I had to make a decision on the name for the cover. My author name. To be recorded forever in the Library of Congress. On my first book.

To honor my father, I chose Teryl. To honor my husband, I chose Oswald.

For this essay, I Googled famous Teryls. None. A quick search of all derivations found Terrell Owens and Terrell Thomas. Both professional football players.

Read the book West of the Pecos. You’ll discover the heroine, Terrill, (as it was spelled in the novel) was named after her uncle who had died in the Civil War.

I had never come face to face with another Teryl (male or female) until recently when I had the pleasure of meeting the lovely owner of Terryl’s Flower Garden in Omaha, Nebraska. I felt a kindred spirit despite the fact she spells her name with two “r’s”. I told her the story of how my father chose my name. She admitted, amazingly, Zane Grey was her favorite novelist when she was young. Check out her beautiful floral work.

There was a popular song released in 1964 called “The Name Game,” written by Shirley Ellis and Lincoln Chase. Shirley Ellis recorded it.

Come on, you remember it. Sing along.

The name game!


Shirley, Shirley bo Birley Bonana fanna fo Firley

Fee fy mo Mirley, Shirley!


Lincoln, Lincoln bo Bincoln Bonana fanna fo Fincoln

Fee fy mo Mincoln, Lincoln!

My brothers and I played the Name Game on car trips with our folks. We would start with our own names –Steve, Terry, Tim, and then insert a variety of first names. We laughed and feigned innocence when a “naughty” rhyme echoed throughout the 1966 Pontiac.

What’s in a name? A lot, as you can see.

One of my favorite parts of writing is choosing the characters’ names. Successful naming is important because it helps to develop the reader’s image of the character. A carefully chosen name helps to determine the emotion the reader feels for the character.

I’ll tell you more about that in a future blog. And by the way, the baby name book I use to research character names reports that “Teryl” means “Thunder Ruler.”

Yep. That’s me.

Until then…choose something fictional to read. Feed your imagination and watch it grow.

I found “The Name Game” lyrics on the following website. Thank you, very much, Digital Dream Door.

I credit Wikipedia for the photo of Zane Grey.