Yesterday morning, after my girl awoke, we did our customary half hour of snuggle time. Her first tangible conscious act of the day was, after shaking the sleep from her eyes, to rock her head from side to side while saying "tick...tock...tick...tock." She stopped to see if I was paying attention, giving me her special smile as she checked my reaction.
As I changed her, I told her that two years ago, at that hour, we were on our way to the hospital for the third trip in three days. We were sleep-deprived and punchy. We were also unbelievably optimistic. We had no idea what lie ahead...certainly not for the endurance test that was the delivery...nor for the roller coaster ride that has been the last two years.
As I finished cleaning her, my mind went back to that day of her birth. I remember going over to the warming bed where they were performing tests. My first words to her were "Hi, Sylvia, I'm your Daddy." She reached over and grabbed my finger.
I remember the hell that was the first eight months, with its bouts of all-day screaming (the result of acid reflux, or dairy intolerance, or who knows what). I remember days being so thankful when my wife came home so I could pass off my daughter, crawl on my bed, curl in the fetal position, and cry uncontrollably for an hour until I could face her again.
I remember the landmarks...such as when she learned to roll over on her own for the first time. I filmed her next success, and then she laughed for a minute. I remember the first time I made her laugh on command (with the toy owl Hoot...an experience which I commemorated in a tattoo). I remember the first time I fed her and had her eyes lock with mine...the first time she said "Daddy"...the first time she kissed me on the cheek...the first time she said "miss you lots"...the first time she said "I love you." With each of these (and many more), my heart softened, exploded, and then grew at least four times.
Later yesterday, when we went out and about, it was not possible for me to not note just how much she's quit being a baby girl and has become a person...in the way she waves and says goodbye to people she sees, the way she holds my hand as we cross parking lots, the way she insists on wearing her ball cap backwards, to the way she just generally interacts with me and the world at large.
I do have regrets. I regret we have to move because the neighborhood kids and the next door neighbors at our old place loved Sylvia. We stopped by last night to grab a few things, and she and her mom ran over to the neighbors. I grabbed some things and packed the car. As I was shutting the trunk, I heard some kids yell...and Sylvia came running from their back yard, grinning ear to ear, as one of the kids chased her. When we finally corralled her and shepherded her to the car, she started to cry. She looked at the next door neighbors, waved, and said "miss you lot." It both broke my heart and increased my desire to punch our idiot landlord in his bearded jaw for not letting us have our daughter grow up on that street.
My biggest regret, though, is that so few of the really wonderful people I know are part of my daughter's life. We have friends who do spend lots of time with her. Their daughter babysat Sylvia last year when I was working. And Sylvia loves the whole family. Every time the two of us do lunch with the guy, when I tell my daughter of our plans, she lights up and says his name over and over...and runs to him when she sees him.
That family, however, is the only one to have such a relationship with my girl, and this frankly also breaks my heart. I'm sad that my friends, who live elsewhere (other cities, other states, other countries) cannot spend time with her. Understandable, yes, but still sad.
What is less understandable, though is the people who could be part of her life but, for whatever reason, are not. It hurts me that they don't get to experience this wonderful girl first-hand. Even worse, though, is that they don't get to help shape my daughter into the person she will become. I love my friends, but it devastates me that they either cannot or will not be part of this wonderful gir's life.
It is a troubling thing bringing a new life, a new blank slate into this uncertain and unstable world. I'm frightened by a lot of things. I'm scared she might feel at some point that life has let her down. I am much more terrified that she might ever think I let her down...and it has becomemy main purpose to never give her a chance to doubt me.
Gotta admit, though...when she smiles at me, when she snuggles into me, when she laughs with me, or when she just gives me that special look which I cannot nor care to explain, those fears go away.
I am not, in general, a strong man. I keep up a good facade, but in spite of the medication, I still feel uncertain more often than not. When I get to bond with my daughter,when she leans in close, when she lifts my heart by words, by laughter, or by just being close, all that melts away...and all becomes right with the world.
If only more people could experience this.
Happy birthday, my girl.