This time eight years ago, I was looking down on a tiny, pink, wrinkled thing that showed little interest in doing anything but napping. I’d been a father for the sum total of about 14 hours at that point. I suppose I should have been struck by the wonder, awed at the miracle, and scared beyond the point of reason at the prospect of being responsible for a brand new human life. Realistically, though, I was mostly just tired as hell.
It’s amazing how 19 hours of labor can take the shock and introspection right out of you.
Honestly, I’ve got no right to complain; the Puddinette spent those same 19 hours attempting to physically eject said new human into the World Outside while dealing with a half-useless epidural and a husband incapable of offering any assistance beyond suggesting she “remember to breathe.”
I documented the whole story at the time. Feel free to review.
So eight years later, I’ve had a lot more time to consider life with a new child. I’ve experienced the joy, the wonder, and the awe, as well as plenty of sheer terror and more than a few helpings of frustration. Watching that helpless infant grow into an actual person has been everything they said it would be plus a lot of things no one ever mentioned.
The first few years were the most predictable, when everything had to be done for him. Every day was a juggling act of bottles, baths, diaper changes, exhausted 3 AM feedings, and spoon-fed pureed vegetables that went down his front more than into his mouth. I sometimes wonder how I managed to get through it without diapering him upside down.
The next few years actually seemed harder, much to my surprise, as he began to show us little bits and pieces of himself, which included the occasional challenge to our authority. Little did he know that The Authority was making it up as we went along, mostly praying we didn’t screw anything up too badly. I’m proud to say he never managed to shove a penny up his nose, but then again, he did manage to hide a few sippy-cups of milk pretty well.
For the record, you aren’t a real parent until you open up a week-old cup of some post-modern milk substance that comes out with a slurping noise like jellied cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving.
The Puddinpop turns eight today, and I’m stunned at what he’s become. He can read and do multiplication, and likes basketball and football. He complains that the Bengals are awful, is learning to play hockey, is fascinated by deer, and is determined to go on Safari before he turns 20. He’s as stubborn as his mother and would forget his head if it weren’t attached, which is something my own mom said to me at least twice a week during my own childhood.
I suggested in the past that Time is a thief that steals our children from us slowly, day by day, until we realize one morning at the bus stop that they’re already half grown and will be walking their own way soon. While I was undoubtedly right about the shortness of that path, I was somewhat mistaken. There’s really no theft involved. Each day, we give pieces of ourselves to our children, tiny little bits in the wiped tears, the soothed fears, and the patient explanations. If we’re careful, and a little lucky, those bits and pieces bond together, grow, and blossom into something new and wonderful. Our kids take what we give them and make something of their own from it, something of themselves.
Time isn’t stealing our children; we’re giving them away to the world, little by little, hopeful of the day when they tell us they’re ready to go it alone. It’s what we’re supposed to do, and I can think of few things that are at once as painful and as satisfying.
Our first tiny, wrinkled, pink thing is becoming a real person, with a life and personality of his own. He’s crossed the imaginary line from small mimicking child to little boy with a head full of ideas. In a blink he went from crying to be fed to halfway to driving.
It’s my own stupid fault. And I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Happy Birthday, Puddinpop. We couldn’t be more proud.