Yesterday, I wrote about how The Pretender fought until the last second to avoid coming into this world. In the end however- we prevailed. For once.
The silly thing about this time, for me, was that I was worried I wouldn’t be involved enough. Emotionally, I mean. I was afraid that I’d simply say: “Ah- a baby. I see.” (read this with a slight British accent) And everyone told me not to worry about it, but I wasn’t so sure. What an idiotic notion. The moment I laid eyes on that kid, I cried harder than I’d ever cried before and certainly since. Now I just cry when she kicks me in the kidney.
Though the moment was, of course, happy, there was grief in my tears as well. Grief at my unworthiness in front of the absolute innocence of this little creature. Shame that I’d lived life up until then and thought it was worth something without her. Humility that such a beautiful tiny being had anything to do with me, was tied down to mortality by my DNA.
So yeah, I sobbed. Did I mention that my wife was attached to a metal table? That she couldn’t walk over and look at the baby like I did? After all she had done, the fact that I was allowed (no, required) to see The Pretender before my wife seemed unfair and unbearably sad, as well. It was a long day.
For someone who (my wife and therapists assure me) is uncomfortable expressing emotion, you can imagine it was rather a watershed moment in my life.
It was 9:52pm. A time that I still keep as an alarm on my digital watch, as I have since she was born. A reminder of the moment that my life changed.
That sounds grandiose. Melodramatic. I know. I can hear my writing teachers telling me to be more specific and not to rely on clichés. But how else can I describe that moment unless I say it was beyond words? That it reminds me of B.C. & A.D.? That “those who walked in darkness have seen a great light”?
It is simply one of those moments that we each struggle to put into words, that you understand once you’ve experienced it. I wish I could put it into words for parents to be, whether that is imminent, or at some point in the future.
In a negative sense, it’s about responsibility. About how you can never think only of yourself again. No matter the babysitter, no matter the situation.
But that’s easy. If that were all there was, who would want a child, or talk about it in glowing terms? Yes, there is that weighty responsibility, but what is it that causes the metamorphosis?
I can say that as they get older, it’s the new perspective they bring. That’s more the stage The Pretender is at right now. Where she can actually discuss things- even in her limited way- with us. In that way, she’s like a tiny spiritual leader.
But when they’re still small, I think the thing they unlock is a new, better part of us. Perhaps it’s even the responsibility that is the key. All of a sudden, all the painful moments, all the school-of-hard-knocks knowledge that cost us so much to attain, all of those pieces of advice that we’d squirreled away and forgotten about, float to the top of our minds as if they’ve been tied with string to the bottom of a pond. And they’ve been transformed. They’re not painful or awkward parts of our past, but they’re gifts we can give to this little bundle of human so that they won’t have to learn that lesson themselves. In that way, we hope (falsely, I’m afraid) that we can keep them from any pain we have experienced.
And so, The Pretender grew in wisdom and in stature. And we learned some things. She didn’t like baths (again, the coldness). She claims to this day that she doesn’t. The funny thing is, once she is immersed in said body of water, she claims the opposite, and refuses to get out, until her fingers and toes wrinkle and we drain the bath against her will.
She loved animals (aminals, she would tell you). Never has she been the least interested in dolls (though she’s had them, including Barbies- she chopped off their hair and quickly grew tired of them.) Instead, she collects hard plastic aminals, and plays with them obsessively. Though less often, she’ll still occasionally get involved like she was at age 3 or 4. For hours. I’m not sure she can even hear us when we speak. She’s with her animals.
She’s not here right now, or I’d ask her, but it is my suspicion that she’d still tell you that the greatest day of her life so far was the day we got a big pink storage container full of these animals at a yard sale. I believe we paid $5. for what we’ve come to realize since that day must have cost an unimaginable sum. Figure it out, math wizards: the box was approximately 1 ½’ long X 1’ wide by 1 ½’ deep. Each of the larger animals is about $7. at the store. The bigger ones- of which there were a few- are about $15.
Anyway, for The Pretender it was the deal of a lifetime. Perhaps some slightly grubby guardian angel was at work that day. I’m absolutely certain that at least one of the “figurines” from that day is within arms reach right now as I sit at the kitchen table. Oh, wait, those are Zoobles (sort of like transformers but they ‘transform’ from a ball into… you guessed it- an animal!) I have to admit, I’m a little fascinated by them. Did I mention they’re spring loaded?
But enough about Zoobles. I want to get back to the change that comes with having a child.
In my case, the other great thing that changed in my life the moment she was born is that The Pretender outnumbered me.
I cannot tell you how much I wanted a daughter, nor can I tell you why. Ask my friends from earlier in my life, or my Mom, if I ever talked about having a son. If I ever planned names for a son. No, I didn’t. But a daughter? Yes. (Have I admitted something shameful, here? I should probably also mention that I had a doll when I was younger, until I cut his hair. Also, I think I may have learned to crochet.)
Anyway, the weight that dropped away from me when my daughter was born was immensely freeing. The first step of this loosening had come the day I got married. I could do whatever I wanted! I had a wife, now- who could question my choices? Who could ever appeal to ‘what girls like’? Nobody.
But a daughter was this times ten thousand. We now had not just the two of us, but our own private universe. I could wear knickers, paint my toenails pink, or anything else that came into my head. It was like my high school art teacher began speaking inside my head in a way he hadn’t since he was really talking in class.
Perhaps what I’m really talking about is acceptance. No slight intended to those who came before The Wife and The Pretender, but my own, our own, family took acceptance and love and support to another level. I had a posse. I had backup. I felt like starting a band. Like singing in public. What did I care?
One more thought along these lines and I’ll wrap this section up. Along with that freedom came (comes) responsibility. I don’t say this to tie back to my first paragraphs about responsibility. This is of a different sort. For lack of a better term, I’ll call it feminist responsibility.
Yes, having a daughter and a wife got me in touch with my feminine side. But it also brought with it a continuing need to further educate myself about what it means to be a girl, to be a woman. I went to a college that brought up feminist issues in classes, but that was as distant as the horizon compared to having a daughter. Like a lightning bolt (I didn’t know it was a girl until the moment she emerged, remember) things like the differing salaries women received compared to men, the glass ceiling, Title IX, and Barbie took on a whole new level of meaning to me. The former things are still in the distance a bit, but the latter, and all that she represents, are front and center right now. Are certain toys for boys, and others for girls? Should a little girl look pretty everywhere she goes, or is it more important that she wears shoes (as an example) that she can climb and run and jump in? Can she wear green? Blue?
And what about parents? I’ve written about this elsewhere, so forgive me, both of you who read that, but when a father is with his child or children, please don’t ask if he’s babysitting. Or assume that he’s a divorced man who’s got the kids for the weekend. I’m sorry some men have reinforced this stereotype. I am. But that doesn’t make it any less offensive for those of us who are really trying.
Finally, how do I treat The Pretender’s mother? This is part of feminist responsibility too. I don’t blame anyone for how I grew up but I still struggle against treating my wife like she should cook dinner and do dishes and clean the house, etc. etc. I don’t really feel that way at all. Quite the opposite. But for The Pretender’s sake, we work hard to model equality (of a sort) for her. That, too, is what it meant to have a daughter.