Second Childhoods, The Count of Monte Cristo and the Theme Song from Cadence

You are six weeks old today and currently sleeping in the playpen on the main floor while your mother and grandmother sleep upstairs. I get up early, mostly for work, so when I’m on days off I keep the schedule and give your mother a few extra hours of uninterrupted sleep while we hang out downstairs. This entails a lot of pacing, the occasional howling fit, and me rocking you back and forth and singing Happy Together and the theme song from Cadence (I get some dancing in with that last one and it tends to quiet you down when you’re upset, so we keep it in steady rotation).

I meant to write earlier and more frequently. I had imagined parenthood and watching you grow would be a steady progression -a one foot after the other- and that I would blog it that way.  Step by step. The highs would be there and the lows would be comical to read. Didn’t turn out that way. Like most things, any assumptions I made about parenthood have been demolished since you’ve been born, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing it hasn’t always been easy.

Let’s start this letter off with something pleasant, though: It feels as though you’ve been here forever. Tessa, you’re going to meet people in your life who, when you see them, you’re going to feel like you’ve known them forever, that they were always there but just around the corner. In the same way as your mother, I feel like you’ve been with me forever. Separating the time before you and after you doesn’t really work. There was always you. You were always here. So I never get that feeling of surprise that I imagined, the ‘Oh my God, I have a baby’ feeling. Doesn’t make sense, but there it is. It’s a good feeling.

Television and films feed a lot of my expectations of what being a father should be like. Maybe that’s common, maybe I’m just strange, but I thought when you were born I would be overwhelmed with a sense of love for you that would manifest in a positive warm fuzzy kind of way. I thought I would have this new appreciation of everything and that somehow it would make me calmer, more mature. I could let go of the unimportant crap that I’ve been carrying around for so long. In this I turned out to be half right, because I was overwhelmed with love, but not in a way that was particularly comfortable.

In reality I was really quite frightened. I thought about writing you a letter then, but I think I made the right choice in getting some distance between those feelings and putting something down on paper now. There was a whole week where I existed in this perpetual state of being half-angry, half-scared, as my brain spooled out all the potential problems and threats and dangers that you might face in your life. And I felt helpless to stop it. You were, and still are, incredibly small. I can hold you in one hand and I know that the world is largely indifferent to your existence. And that’s scary. Very scary. It took a week of that before I could calm down enough to get a handle on the surge of emotions and process them properly.

Parenthood is like a second childhood in a way. All the issues you didn’t deal with when you were younger come right back to you with your child, so when I look at you I find myself thinking about how to avoid the bullying I went through in school, the weight issues I’m still wrestling with, the lack of self-discipline. You don’t know this yet, but you and I have conversations everyday. When I’m driving to work, when I’m alone in a room, when I’m pacing with you in the wee hours of the morning. I’m practicing conversations with you for when you’re older. Conversations about the big questions, the little questions, the questions that don’t have solid answers. I’m talking you through your problems. I’m talking me through mine.

I want so much for you, and the rawness of that want surprised me. It is a want I can’t really explain. It gets in my head and into my chest and some things I thought were important aren’t important anymore. You’re important. This family is important. And on top of all of that there’s the urgent need to get all my shit together as quickly as possible. That’s a daily message, flashing in bright lights. It’s how I order my day, or at least try to.

None of this you are aware of, or if you are you’re keeping it pretty close to the chest. For the most part the last six weeks have had you on automatic pilot. You are figuring out your body. Your arms and legs kick and flail without any real purpose. You cry when you’re hungry, when you need changed or when you need held. You have (and I am absolutely biased) the most beautiful little face I ever did see. But I am careful to not read too much into what you do at this point. You’ve been born, yes, but you’re still coming alive. Climbing out of yourself. Figuring out how all the systems work.

To illustrate where we both are at the moment I’ll end with this image: We’re a few weeks in and your grandmother hasn’t arrived yet. It’s just the three of us in the house plus the dogs. Your mother is in bed and I’m taking care of you in the early morning. It’s dark outside and you’ve been sleeping for a while. You start fussing about in your crib and I walk over. You are still asleep but wrestling around in your swaddling blanket, grunting and shifting in a way that looks like you are trying to get free. And I am transfixed. It brings to mind, of all things, The Count of Monte Cristo, and with that thought I think about how you, the woman you are to become one day, is locked away in that brain of yours and it will take decades for you to fully come out. It will be a struggle and you will learn things during your long and great escape, but one day you will emerge from your efforts a free woman with a treasure map to riches and a great wide world. It’s a beautiful thought and it makes me smile down at you just to think it. You are my beautiful daughter, I think, and I love you. You keep struggling. Keep growing. I’m here. I’m-

And then you let out the loudest, longest fart of your whole entire life.

Let’s just say we’re experiencing this you-being-alive thing in two very different ways.