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So last night, as it were, Audrey grabbed my hand. She’s into grabbing hands if she can lead. Not one to be led herself, mind, but still, I’ll take it. Few things give me a pang of fatherly joy as much as my daughter grabbing my hand and pulling me somewhere.
She pulled me to the fireplace, and knelt down and patted the floor and said “Sit down,” which is what she does when she wants someone to sit down in a specific place.
Smart girl, my daughter.
So I sat down in front of the fireplace, and our fire is never lit, but we sat in front of it, and the two of us pretended it was lit like the fire in her grandparents’ house over Christmas, and we held our hands out and rubbed them together and blew into them like stereotypical hobos around a brazier, all like I had showed her in her grandparents’ house, when she laughed and said “more, more” and made the ‘more’ sign with her hands. And there was no fire but we did this anyway, because it is now the thing we do when we sit in front of the fire.
And while we did that, my daughter said “A.”
"A," I repeated.
And then she said “U.”
And I repeated that.
"D," she said.
"D," I said.
"R," she said.
"R," I responded, and I turned around and my wife was poking her head around the door from the kitchen and I gave her a look of puzzlement.
"E," my daughter said.
"E," I said.
"Y," she said.
"Y," I said.
"Audrey!" she said, and I said, and I looked at my daughter and I looked at my wife and my wife mouthed "Holy shit" and then said "did she seriously just spell out her name?" and I said yes and I mouthed "Holy shit" because, well, holy shit.
It creeps in gradually, piece by piece, until you finally realise it and it hits you: your love has changed. All the milestones, all the little things you watch for and monitor and keep track of, they add up as time goes on and it’s not until you step back, away from the details, and you see the bigger picture, that the pieces making up the whole have changed.
It could be because you spent Friday night with your wife just scrolling through the photos and videos on your iPad, and on the computer, and on your phones. Marvelling at the first delicate hours and the first silly smiles, laughing at the recent claps and dances, amazed that eight months passed by in two hours on the sofa.
And it could be because you had to go out and get a new car seat, because she’s outgrown her old one, and because the baby stuff store is close to your doctor’s surgery it’s a route you’ve taken a lot over the last eight months. Eight months ago they’d started building a block of condos close to Yonge and Davenport, and each time you pass it grows, and now you see it and it hits you that now there’s a building there.
It’s no longer a hole in the ground, or a shell, or a building site, it’s a building. It’s not a theoretical mass of potential, you can look beyond what it could be, because you can now see what it is.
So maybe those are the reasons you see her so differently now, maybe those are two of many contributing factors. But you think back to that little girl who came home with you from the hospital, and what it was about her that you loved: The fragility that you wanted to protect. The innocence that you wanted to preserve. The fact that she was yours, that you had made this, that this was your responsibility -
(A couple of days after coming home, your wife is in the bathroom, the baby sits in your arms as you rock on the rocking chair. She’s so new, she still looks at you with no comprehension, so you whisper, as quietly as you can, “I’m your Daddy, and I’m going to look after and keep you and your Mummy safe for as long as I can,” and by the time your wife has come out of the washroom you’ve just about wiped and hidden all the tears in your eyes)
- But the bigger picture has changed with all the little building block milestones. She has a personality now, she doesn’t just react to things. She instigates playing by hiding her face from you in her stroller. She claps and laughs when the woman in the Baby Laptop sings the ABC song. She sees you come home from work and a joyous realisation covers her face and she flaps her arms and legs in a ‘welcome home’ dance like a chubby butterfly. She dances when Taylor Swift comes on the radio, and splashes in the bath and loves peaches and carrots but not avocados and bananas.
Your love has changed, because the thing you love has changed. She’s no longer a theoretical mass of potential. She’s a little person, with a personality, and she’s a little person with a personality that you love.
It’s the clothes that’ll get you. The onesies, striped summer dresses, sleep sacks, ‘Mummy loves me’ t-shirts, skinny jeans. Size N, zero to three, three to six.
Sure, there are the photographs, but they don’t have the same effect. Even the earliest ones, those trembling, sweaty delivery room aftermath snapshots and more relaxed recovery room swaddle pictures, where she’s so impossibly small and yet (this has to be a cliche, it has to) so incredibly huge.
You can look through all the photographs in chronological order, the staged ones that your wife takes every Wednesday weekiversary, the candid “look at what she’s doing now isn’t it cute quick where’s my camera” shots, the visiting relative beaming while holding squirmy blur pictures; they won’t get you in the same way.
The photos don’t get you because they’re not about things lost, or gone by. They’re brimming with potential, with the future, with possibilities.
But the clothes are a different story. The half dozen shirts and onesies from Baby Gap from that time when you were passing by and sure, let’s just go and see, we’ll have to start buying clothes at some point, we’ll just have a look, and everything was so cute that you came away having spent a small fortune and quickly learned why Walmart and Costco’s clothes came so highly recommended.
The loaners from your serially procreating friends who are currently between babies four and five. The unworn tiny outfits loaned to you by friends whose baby was born the size of a Galapogos tortoise. The fuzzy footed sleepers from shrieking coworkers at baby showers. The dinosaur t-shirt from Great Aunt Hilda that was accidentally put with the bigger clothes so it never got worn and you still feel incredibly guilty about.
It starts when the first ones start to tug; you see signs of tightness, and so they go into an unused shelf in a closet. Then the shelf gets too full so you take an empty box of six thousand Pampers and put them in that. When it’s full it goes under a bed and you start another box.
You’re saving it all for the next one, you say.
And then it gets you. You pull the boxes out because you have a bunch more clothes to add, and it gets you. It’s all there. The drive home. The first night. The frantic, desperate first trip to the lactation consultant. Waiting in the ER with the Olympic opening ceremony in the background. The first smiles, the first blowout, the first miraculous all-night sleep. The past, contained in tiny dresses and outfits, memories and ghosts.
So you rock her to sleep later that night, and the boxes are still on the floor, and as her face smooshes into your arm in the sudden darkness you hold her closer, as close as you can without waking her up. Because she’ll never be this small again.
An interesting thing about talking to other parents is how some of them interpret your adoption of different parenting techniques as a rebuttal of their own abilities. Somehow the fact that you’ve decided to do something different to them is, on your part, a tacit message that you think they’re terrible parents.
The conversation usually goes with them telling you that they’ve adopted Doctor Pastrami’s patented Book-Bath-Feed-Book-Feed-Sleep technique, and that it’s worked very well for them so far. You non-judgementally respond by saying you’ve had excellent results with the Sprogrest Institute’s Bath-Book-Feed-Book-Book-Feed-Sleep technique. What they hear, however, is you telling them that they’re unfit to have a child and you’ll be calling social services as soon as they’re out of earshot.
I guess most of us have the insecurity coming from the fact that we’re completely winging this whole ‘raising children’ thing, and when other people do things differently to us it comes to the fore and we get defensive.
The worst for this, I’ve found, are members of the older generation, who were often given different information, which was considered the best at the time. “Why aren’t you putting her to sleep with a smoked mackerel on her forehead?” they ask. “I always put a smoked mackerel on my children’s heads when they went to sleep, and they were wonderful sleepers.” (And if the interlocutor is your baby’s grandparent, you’ll get the additional “…and YOU turned out okay…”)
"Well," you say in response, "at that time the perceived wisdom was that it was best to put smoked mackerel on a baby’s forehead. You were doing the correct thing at the time. But subsequent studies indicated that the practice led to a higher risk of Haddock Temples in later life, so it’s not really recommended any more." Still, the rejection of this hitherto-accepted practice is seen as a personal insult.
"Humph," the other person will grumble, inwardly seething at the offence. "You are still tying half a parsnip to her right elbow on Tuesday lunchtimes, though?"
"Of course," you answer, "how else will we keep the Lymph People at bay?"
Audrey is still at the stage where she’ll pretty much only go to sleep if someone is rocking her. 99% of the time that person is me, because if her Mum rocks her Audrey just assumes milkmilkmilkmilkohmygodmilk. For this reason, I have compiled a list of my most useful and effective rocking techniques.
Why do all pregnancy/newparenting books have a chapter that begins along the lines of, “Despite what other books may tell you, the first six weeks are no walk in the park”?
They all say it! They all insinuate that there are other publications out there going “yeah, bring the sprog home, put it in a crib, get some sleep, wake up rejuvenated, feed the sprog, repeat for several years. Laugh at the sunshine, send it to school, clap your hands together in a satisfied manner at your parenting skills. And rumours of terrible hemmoroids are greatly exagerrated. PARENTING!”
Do these publications actually exist? Because every single thing I have read about the first few weeks of parenting pretty much gives the impression that it’s a constant stream of misery and shit, like the Bog of Eternal Stench from the film Labyrinth decided to stay with you and has bet itself a dollar it can make you stay awake for 45 uninterrupted days.
One book I got from the library had a chapter entitled “The First Six Weeks of Your Baby’s Life” and it consisted of nothing but ominous laughter. For twenty-two pages.
I feel kind of guilty for the expectant parents who get these other books that my books are referring to, the ones that say it’s all a walk in the park. I’m picturing this couple who have all these idealistic visions of Home Life With Baby that they got from their copy of ‘Overly Optimistic Parent Monthly’ and ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting: Rose-Tinted Glasses Edition’. Then they get home and they’re like “HOLY FUCK, THIS THING SHITS? I HAVE TO DEAL WITH ITS SHIT? WHY DID NOBODY TELL ME THIS?”
Ominous laughter for twenty two pages.