Friday, December 30, 2016

Lessons From a One Year Old

I wish I could say that I have lived my life without regrets.  I wish I could say that I've always tried my hardest to make sure that when I got older I wouldn't be able to look back and say, "I wish I had done that differently."  I wish I could say I always paid close attention to mundane details of everyday life, and I wish I could say that I know for certain what the roses smell like.  Truth is, I can't say any of those things.

It's so easy as an adult to look back on one's childhood and assuredly comment on how easy things were.  While I am almost certain my childhood was generally happy and worry-free, it's unfair for the 31-year-old version of me to sell my 9-year-old self so short.  Sure, a 9-year-old's struggles are mostly laughably minor to an adult, but when you're the kid living it, there are truly life-and-death scenarios faced on a daily basis.  Now that I'm grown, I don't recall many of those everyday struggles I faced as a child.  But I do remember always hoping and wishing to be older, so I could do whatever I wanted, so I wouldn't have to worry about those things anymore.  So that life would be so much easier.  The grass is greener, and all that.

If I could sit and talk to the kid version of me, I honestly can't think of all the things I'd tell myself.  But, despite the cliche nature of it, I'd implore myself to live life in the moment.  I'd plead with me to realize that life and time are so precious.  I'd exhort myself to stop wishing away the time.  All those amazing things we so earnestly look forward to almost invariably fail to meet expectations, and the ones that do are always worth the wait.

"Enjoy the wait!" I'd scream at the top of my lungs.  Don't kid yourself into thinking that when you get to "that point" (whatever "that point" may be) you'll slow down and appreciate things more, I'd tell me.  You won't.  You'll be there, realize it wasn't what you hoped it'd be, and you'll go right back to wishing you were some other place or some other time.  I'd preach to myself to enjoy the journey.  I'd beseech myself to soak up every minute detail of every day.  All the sorrow.  All the joy.  All the heartbreak.  All the laughter.  All the love.  All the misery.  All the boredom.  All the loneliness.  All the thrills.  All.  Of.  It.

If I were able to tell the kid me all those things, maybe I wouldn't be sitting here wondering where the hell the last year went.  Maybe I would have listened to me.  Maybe I would have recognized all that stuff long ago, so by the time I was here, with my baby girl turning one, I'd be far more experienced at paying attention to every single second of every single day.  Maybe it wouldn't have taken her being born for me to realize just how fleeting time is.

If Adrienne and I had a nickle for every time we've said, "Just look at her," during the last year, we'd be able to retire today and put her through college two or three times.  Admittedly, I failed to see the significance of everyday occurrences before Charlotte Claire was born.  I always felt like I had all the time in the world.  I took a lot of things for granted.  Without even trying, without even knowing she was doing it, Charlotte taught me that.  She taught me to stop.  She taught me to wrap my memory around every second of every day.  Every smell, every giggle, every belly-laugh, every stumbling step and fall, every squeal of joy, every cry, every indecipherable word, every smile, every happy hand clap, every 2:00 AM party, every wave bye-bye, every horsey ride and patty-cake, every hot dog dance and look in the mirror...All of it.  If I could sit and talk to the kid version of me, I'd already know to pay attention to where all the time goes.  Since I can't, it took Charlotte Claire to make me understand.

A year used to feel like a long time.  It doesn't anymore.  The past year has been a conundrum for me.  It's gone by in what seems like the blink of an eye, but has also felt like an entire lifetime in itself.  I obviously can remember my life before Charlotte came along, but I feel totally disconnected from it.  Instead of seeing memories, I feel like I'm watching a movie of my life, starring someone that looks like me.  It's all familiar and resembles the true story, but something is missing...Something's just not quite right.

If I could sit and talk to the kid version of me, I'd tell me to live life in the moment.  So that when Charlotte Claire came along, I'd be far better at paying attention and filing away the memories.  If I were able to talk to the younger me, maybe my biggest fear as I write this wouldn't be forgetting something that happened yesterday, or today, or last week...Some little thing that is the best thing in the world right now.  Maybe I'd be so versed in the Art of Now, I wouldn't have so many forgotten memories.  Maybe I wouldn't have so many regrets. 

Maybe I wouldn't have learned so much this year.

Happy Birthday, Charlotte Claire.  I love you more than I'll ever be able to tell you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Is There a Troubleshooting Guide for This?

Over the last few weeks, I've been asked when this blog post was coming.  One would think that an enormous life event like having a child would warrant any number of posts, and with relative ease.  However, to my own surprise, that hasn't necessarily been the case.  Choosing what to write has actually been rather difficult, and finding the time has been even harder.  So, I apologize for the delay.

Since the day I found out Adrienne was pregnant and we began sharing the news with our friends and family, people have been quick to offer advice.  We've been given tips on how we should feed the baby, when she needs to sleep and for how long, what doctor to visit, what brand of diapers to buy...And almost invariably, someone at some point would jokingly ask, "So, are you ready?" Then they'd follow that with a belly laugh, as if they were the only one that really got it.

I'd usually offer a wry grin, and a response along the lines of, "As ready as I'll ever be."

"May as well be, right?  No going back now!" They'd say, with another fit of hysterical laughter.

The truth is, those conversations were never as enjoyable for me as they undoubtedly were for the person I was talking to.  It wasn't the fact they were giving me unsolicited advice or offering up some totally predictable one-liner.  Much of the advice was appreciated (what the hell did I know about having a baby?), and unfunny comments became their own running joke.  It wasn't that.

What actually bothered me was the fact that every single time I got asked that question, I had to lie.  Because, truth be told, I was never ready.  I was scared to death.  In the days and months leading up to Charlotte's birth, I'd experience virtually every emotion one can encounter on an almost daily basis: unfathomable joy at the thought of being a father.  Crippling despair.  Sickening worry.  Back to happy.  A cold-sweat sort of anxiety.  Simple ease.  Gut-wrenching nervousness.  The roller coaster that I experienced was unbelievable, and would almost always arise at the most random of times.  And my mindset would return to normal just as quickly.

I thought about what Charlotte would look like.  I thought about what kind of personality she would have.  I imagined falling asleep on the couch, while she napped on my chest.  I imagined how I would feel the first moment I laid eyes on her.  And as wild and unrealistic as our imaginations can often be, nothing I imagined even remotely compared to what it was actually like.

I would guess for the average person, there are probably only 4 or 5 moments one can recognize as life-altering.  Like, as the event is occurring, you realize its significance without the benefit of hindsight.  One of those, my life will never be the same after this moment kind of things.  The moment I saw Charlotte is one of those.  I'm sure I'll make countless missteps and never really figure things out.  But, the moment I first laid eyes on Charlotte, was the moment I was finally ready.

The last six weeks have been an unbelievable whirlwind.  Watching her change and grow everyday has gone so far beyond any of my expectations that finding words to describe it is almost an impossible task.  I always expected to celebrate the big milestones, but I've come to cherish the subtle nuances of her that come on a daily basis.

I love how she clenches her fists up under her chin as she eats.  Sometimes she stretches her neck out as far as it will reach, tilts her head back and strains her eyes toward the ceiling.  We refer to it as "turtle face," because, when she does that, she resembles Cecil Turtle from those old Looney Tunes cartoons.  I love listening to little involuntary grunts and sighs she makes while she's sleeping.  In the last couple of weeks, she's become far more aware of her surroundings, and has started reacting to our voices.  She giggles softly from time to time, and it's just the best thing ever.  I love when she's bright-eyed and stares holes through me, or when she moves her mouth along with mine, attempting to mimic my movements in her own way.

I love listening to Adrienne talk to her when she's not really aware I'm listening.  I love watching the faces they make at one another the way only a mother and her newborn daughter can.  I love looking into her eyes, desperately trying to figure out what she's thinking.  Or wondering if she's thinking anything at all.  I wonder what it must be like to genuinely discover something new every single day.  Like a light bulb.  Or your own reflection.  Or how it feels to move your arms.  The feeling of Dad's beard brushing your cheek.  I wonder what it would be like to never take anything for granted.  Not because you're extraordinarily conscientious, but because you're incapable of it.  I am constantly in awe of that innocence.

All that being said, I'd be a liar if I said everything was wonderful and perfect.  It isn't.  Adrienne and I are discovering a level of pure physical exhaustion I'm not sure I knew existed.  The second we begin to fall into any semblance of routine (finally!), Charlotte decides she is bored with the status quo.  I've forgotten what it felt like to relax for longer than five minutes.  Even when Charlotte naps, Adrienne and I spend so much energy trying not to wake her that it makes it impossible to relax ourselves.  I've been peed on.  I've been puked on.  I've discovered smells that have absolutely no business coming from such a small human being.  And I know I've not even begun to scratch the surface of what's to come.  It is absolutely terrifying.

And, yet, I've never loved more, smiled more, laughed more, and anticipated more than I have the last six weeks.  Everyone told me I had no idea what being a parent would be like until I experienced it for myself, and they're most certainly right.  Truth be told, I still don't really know what it will be like.  I have no idea what I'm doing, and I have no idea how in the world I'm going to succeed at this.  But, for some reason, I'm ready.

May as well be, right?