(Geronimo) -- A local father is not only telling his 9-year-old daughter that he loves her every day, he's illustrating it -- literally. For at least the last year and a half, school lunch has become somewhat like Christmas morning for Navarro Third Grader Leah Reyes.
You see, every time Leah unzips her lunch box, she is surprised with a piece of artwork on her napkin -- artwork designed and packed specifically for Leah by her father James Reyes. Whether it's Peanuts, Disney, or any other animation that one can imagine, it has probably appeared on a napkin.
While Reyes' talented artwork is no doubt catching peoples' attention, it is perhaps his dedication and love for his daughter that is painting an even bigger picture for those who know him and who over the year have come to also enjoy his creative napkin pieces that are later posted on social media. Reyes, who remains humble in calling himself an artist, says he is just lucky to have stumbled onto lunch duty.
"Actually, how it came about was in the mornings, my wife Julie -- she does a lot for Leah so I get this credit for the napkins but Julie does way more than drawing napkins. So, one day Julie was trying to get to work because Julie takes off to work before I take Leah to school and she says 'hey, I need you to make her lunch because I don't have the time to do it.' So I said 'okay, I'll do it' and just on a whim -- and it was actually Nemo -- that was the first napkin that I drew and back then, they were just black and white because coloring actually helps cover up some of the mistakes from the black and white drawing so I (drew) Nemo. I stuffed it into her lunch box when I made lunch that morning and I pretty much took over lunch making duties ever since," said Reyes.
Reyes, who works as a local attorney, says although his day can be just as hectic as most parents if not more, he remains committed of staying one step ahead in planning for tomorrow's piece of artwork.
"Sometimes I think about it during the day, sometimes. Most of the time, it's the night before where I'm trying to think okay, what can I do? And, I try to make them clever or applicable to what is going on that day. Obviously, some of them are day specific like Wednesday is Hump Day or Friday you are celebrating and Monday is kind of -- it's Monday, so it's dreadful. What I am trying to do is make her day happier and one time, I shared it on Facebook and I had a lot of friends who liked to it so I also post them on social media because it brings a lot of happiness. At least, that the feedback that I get from folks who look forward to it. So they are there for her but I also share them for my friends who enjoy them and that's good considering what we see on social media nowadays and on news. It's not a lot of happy stuff so I try to keep at least my feed happy. Sometimes, it's a relief. If it's a school holiday, it's like okay, no napkin pressure today but I enjoy it and quite honestly -- I don't want to say therapeutic but it's enjoyable. It takes your mind off of listening to the news on TV or just being creative in making something that you know my little girl is going to enjoy and other folks are going to enjoy it too and so it's just like a stress reliever," said Reyes.
James Reyes and his daughter, Leah, show off a few of his drawings on her lunch napkins.
Hundreds of napkins later, Reyes says he enjoys this new found family tradition.
"I think whatever it is that you enjoy doing for your child, just take time out to do it. This is 10 to 15 minutes of my life that I take out of one 24 hour period but she enjoys it so much and even though, there are some mornings where I feel like uh, I don't have the time to do, I try to squeeze it in." Maybe that means I'm bringing her right when the bell is ringing so I can finish it but we get it done. She enjoys it. Sometimes, like if I'm out of town at a continuing legal education and it's just her and mama, my wife Julie, Julie will take over napkin duties and we have some of hers that she has done and she has a different style and what is awesome is Leah also will draw her own stuff too and she has a sketch board. She likes to draw. But sometimes, she wants to do her own napkin and when I first started doing this in the first grade, she would come and all the kids would like to see it and they'd sort of all kind of crowd around the lunch table and look at them and then other children started bringing their own napkins and so it was sort of spreading. They would bring their own and compare and see. That was nice to hear that," said Reyes.
As for the recipient, Leah says she couldn't be any happier.
"Thank you so much. I love getting a surprise at lunch everyday. It makes my day happy even if I have a test," said Leah.
Leah says she especially enjoys sharing her lunch napkin with others. She says even her friends think a career change is in order for her father.
"They say, 'is your dad an artist or what?' And, I say 'no, he's a lawyer.' And, they go 'well, he should be an artist! " said Leah.
Despite the hundreds of favorite napkins, Leah says there is at least a pair of drawings that take the cake.
"Unicorn Week, that was my birthday week last year and my birthday party theme was unicorns so he drew a unicorn dabbing and he drew a unicorn that had rainbow hair and it was cool," said Leah.
A witness to Leah's added happiness at lunch time is Navarro Elementary Third Grade Teacher Libby Landford. Landford says the entire school has come to also embrace this special father/daughter bond.
"You can tell that it brightens her day when she opens it up and she sees the new design or the quote or whatever he's wrote on the napkin how that lifts her day up and then she shows it to everybody. She has a smile on her face from ear to ear so I guess even though he's not always here with her at lunch, he's with her at lunch so it's like she can share that with him and you know not all parents have that bond and so it's really special to her and I think it's fantastic," said Lanford.
For many, it can be troublesome to just pack a school lunch and even more difficult to find that additional 10 to 30 minutes to draw on a napkin.
Going that extra mile, however, is not difficult for Reyes’ wife, Julie to understand. She says if anything, creating these pieces of artwork each day is just an extension of Reyes’ kind heart.
"I think he minimizes what he does. He just looks at it as something fun to do that really puts a smile on her face but it really does. Everyday, she's like 'what are you going to draw today?' Or, 'what are you doing?' She really wants to see what he's doing and it brings a lot of excitement to her and she gets to share them with not only with her friends at school but she shares them with her teachers, she shares them with her friends at dance and she's really excited about it and it's more than just the napkins. It's the time, the talent, the effort -- the love -- anything he can do. He's a really dedicated man to her, us, the community, everybody and it's awesome that he spends so much time. Even though he says it's 10 minutes, 10 minutes is a lot when you are trying to rush and get ready in the morning -- to stop and think about what you are going to do to try to make your daughter smile that day for five seconds if that's all it is -- I mean even to make her friends smile or her teachers smile or whoever it is that gets to see it. I'm proud of him for taking that time to -- even if it is just pack her lunch up but to send her a little love not in the form of a picture to say 'hey, I'm thinking about you. I hope you have a great day and I hope this makes you happy in some way today," said Julie.
For those who might question, Reyes ensures he always packs two napkins, one as his daughter's keepsake and the other to keep things tidy.
The creative napkins are posted daily and can be followed via Instagram and Facebook at #LeahsLunchNapkinsByDaddy. Samples of the images can also be found in today's edition of the Seguin Daily News.