Teddy’s Cheeks

Perhaps its just my nature to be wistful. That very well could be it. I could easily make the argument that wistfulness is my strongest suit as a writer. But wistful for me these days is honest. Because while parenthood is very very good at making you spend a good deal of your day living in the moment, it is also a role that is forever slipping through your fingers. 

There’s a lot that surprises you that first second. I became a dad in an instant. One second I’m a husband and about to be dad and the next I’m a dad. Full blown, card carrying dad. The card in this case was a Visa card and not some license to be a dad, though were there one my merely being a dad would not entitle me to the card. Nope. That comes later. I’m certified now, but still a newb. Becoming a dad is merely the starters pistol in your sprint to learn to be a dad. 

What I learned first, after the new brand of love, the overarching, in your bones kind of love that you learn in that first instant, what I learned was that life is fragile and mine will end. Hopefully some day decades and decades down the road when the loss will be real for my kids, but when it will be manageable. Still, this little boy had a story and it was starting right there, smack in the middle of the story I’d been only just getting accustomed to sharing with his mom. If everything goes right, if it goes as right as it can go I’ll get a few decades to overlap, 30 or 40 or 50 years to be in his story. Then, inevitably, I’d be leaving. Wrapping up my tale with tentacles lingering on the fringes of the stories they will be living. It’s the best outcome one can hope for and it is unavoidably imbued with melancholy. Sad is the wrong word. Melancholic. A sustained low level presence of unavoidable sorrow, that recedes to the background when joy is present and it is so so present so much, along with exhaustion and frustration and confusion and exhaustion. Did I say exhaustion twice? I did? Well, clearly I’m not as tired as I was a few years back. Then the entire list would have consisted of exhaustion and the list would hav been 7-12 items long. All of them exhaustion. 

My first son made me a dad. He came into the world and boom, I’m a dad. He cried, I messed up, I learned my error and I became more of a dad. This is a seemingly infinite loop. I mess up, I recognize it by something going wrong with him, I see that I messed up and I try something new and it gets a little better  and we do that all day every day forever. Which is true, but not true. It’s not forever. Time is very viscous and slides faster than I can keep up. You do eventually give the swing to sisters and brothers who will need it. You throw out the car seat that is beyond beaten and smelly and you recycle the last bottle you’ll ever have. Things disappear into the far back memories and then they go from there. Some of them go invisibly and without regret or a second thought. I’ll never change my kids disaster diaper ever again. The kind where you resort to cutting the clothing off to save everyone the terror of it coming off any other way. That piece of history is happily behind me, though I actually think I appreciated it for what it was at the time. Your mind and memory play little tricks like that. I know better. Just happy that’s in the past. Other things, well, I can’t let go of so cavalierly. Like Teddy’s cheeks. 

Teddy’s cheeks aren’t going anywhere. I trust he’ll have them for the rest of my story. But they are changing. He has epic cheeks. Anyone and everyone who has known him will tell you. They are squat and round and adorable. They are a feast for the eyes and they are so connected to the little misspeakings of an adorable toddler with the childlike voice that I’ll never fully have anymore. He is our last and when those cheeks go, they’re gone. Forever. And this time forever means forever. 

My Teddy’s cheeks won’t come back. So I am wistful. Nostalgic. Sentimental in the extreme because my life, my consciousness has a timeline and the horizon, though distant, is firmly in view and when I lose Teddy’s cheeks that horizon will draw ever so slightly nearer.  


The Things We Carry

It’s not impossible to project from here. The boys are only 3 and 4 and already I can see a light in the fog. Nothing crystal clear, nothing close.  But it’s reasonable as they approach an age that I can not quite reach back to, but from my furthest memories I can hear faint whispers. They are coming from a me of their age.

IMG_0078Growing up is exciting and fun and challenging and confusing. It’s the stuff of life and it’s great. As parents I can already see how much I’ll marvel as they progress to their ultimate destination of independence from us. I’m embarrassed at how much I often hurt when letting them go and grow even a little, but we must. We want to. Truly we do. But the unbelievable feeling of being so needed, so wanted, so loved and looked up to.. it’s a mighty powerful drug. It really is. One you are encouraged to indulge in fully, to give you the intoxication of pure love that fills your tank at a rate roughly equivalent to the rate that the job requires you to spend your fuel. Its a frantic pace and one that challenges your collective ability to stay standing, keep your balance and continue to progress.

Kids have no idea, at least I didn’t, that my parents were people. I mean I knew they were humans, so they met at least one definition, but they weren’t feeling people, ones constantly balancing their emotions and their thoughts. Endlessly interpreting life and its meanings. They told me they loved me constantly. Still do. I understand what it means now that I’m a dad, but for so much of my life I had no clue all that it entailed.

A parents love is both joyous and sad. It’s remarkably proud and endlessly fascinated. It’s scared. Really scared at times and garden variety worried a lot of the time. It’s fun to love your kids, endless fun. It’s a love that can wake you up and push you past fears, motivate you when the fumes are all you have left and think you can’t go on. It’s also terribly dissembling.

20150114-010501-3901911.jpgWhen you arrive on the scene, those first few years, the ones that will hide so far back in time you’ll never retrieve them, never even conceive of them until you are faced with passing this strange and hyper-real time yourself someday, if you’re lucky enough to do so, you become the operating and inciting entity in our lives. For a time we feel we are the sun to your planetary revolutions, but the truth reveals itself over time. You are in fact the sun and you power and light what life we have to give. And we give so much of it to you. So much we can lose sight of each other from time to time.

When you arrive you are all need and as you emerge you pay us in love and hugs and smiles and conversation. At first we talk about the things around us, things we can touch and feel. Things like toys, shapes, colors and love. But as you grow older and need to discover the things that lie behind the horizon of mom and dad you start to push past us. It’s wonderful. It really really is. But we remember we are human when you do it. We aren’t the all giving all knowing force of the universe that your needs have perhaps allowed us to think we were.

But we follow your lead now. Being brave because you are. Pushing past comfort because you are. We try to stay out front. We have to for a time in order to ensure safe passage to the other side. To where you will live in the world. Apart from us but from us. And this becomes our new identity. The path-clearers. The independence enablers. We relish your accomplishments and feel, feel deeply your struggles. But all the time knowing you are safe because we are here walking with you.

Until we aren’t. Not in the way we’ve become accustomed to. Because you need to walk alone. Need to prove to the world and in turn to yourself that you will be able to handle what life throws at you. Because someday you’ll be tasked with being the safety net for yourself. We know this, but it hurts to lose that to. To lose that job that has defined us.

20150114-010414-3854144.jpgIn the happy stories you learn to rely on yourself. To navigate the world and all of its challenges. You build networks of support in a thousand ways and you find comfort in the high wire act of being a person among people trying your best to get through. You even learn that you are so capable that you can give love to others that you see that need it. If you are lucky. You’ve stored all the love that’s been given from your prehistory in those early, never to be recalled days up til now and you realize you are who you are because of you and all those who’ve loved you and you find your way back to us through understanding.

Understanding that we were giants at one time because of you, that the journey we’ve taken, just like yours, was hard and left scarring. You learn to have empathy for the people you thought of as gods who made the moon come out to lightly illuminate your slumber and would keep it there as long as you needed it. Who made life livable and who seemed to stand in your way when you couldn’t understand why they were frightened to let you go.

IMG_0076We weren’t frightened to let you go. Well we were, sure, but it was compounded by the fact that we knew it meant letting the us we became when we met you go to. It was a fear of what we would find in the space you’d leave behind in the middle of our hearts and our homes. You, the purpose of our lives, the ones we so happily surrendered ourselves to the second we met. What will we be without you.

It’s a silly fear I’m sure, but I don’t know how I’ll get past it. I’m sure you’ll be able to see me acting on fear before I recognize it. That’s the job of loving families. We hold on too long and you, benevolently live up to your obligation by walking away. You’ll have to. And you’ll have to forgive us all those times we couldn’t let go when we should have. You’ll come to know that while we walked behind you as you shed those things that children must leave, we were picking up those things we couldn’t let go of to take with us. They are the reminders of our most purposeful, love filled, meaningful times in our lives and we would rather be weighed down with them than let them drift into history. They are the artifacts of the story of our lives and we’ll carry them to the end.

Holding On


He’s too old to need this. He shouldn’t need to be cuddled and huddled to sleep. But I do it. I shouldn’t need it either. But we’re simpatico this way.

Like him, I too am refusing some transitions now that I know there’ll likely be no return, no future facsimile, no one ever who will need me this way again. It’s really hard early on, but it’s also so simple. The hours are neverending but the repeated need, once the electricity is on, the fridge is stocked, the house is clean and warm, the bum is wiped, powdered and covered, is just love. Hugs and kisses and cuddles. It’s all I need really. Its what he gives me in exchange for everything I can provide him. I’m getting the better end of the deal. It’s not even that close.

He was sleep trained before. At least this part. The ‘going to bed’ part of the sleep training. There was a month or two about six months back when he could be read a story or two, put down and largely left to fall asleep. It was a miraculous thing. At first. Until it dawned on me that I’d made myself obsolete. It’s my job to give independence and I relish it, but in such a task as this it was too soon. All the sacrifice this little angel has demanded of me, I’ll be damned if I’m going to drop this one exhausting, truly taxing, wonderful hour of my night just because he’s ready.

Gone is the swelled brain, feverish, red-eared exhaustion of the newborn phase. The nights aren’t ridiculous anymore, they’re just tiring. Tiring is okay. So I did it. I untrained him. I once again insisted on holding him to sleep. I cursed myself for bringing all this work back but I was and suspect I always will be, happy that I got it back. He’s gonna get these added perks denied his older brother who does more teaching of us than we do teaching of him. It’s a balance to all the things the first gets that the second can’t.

We’re on vacation now and naps are hard to come by. Our days are filled. Sleep routines be damned. When the occasion does arise for me to once again ‘put him to bed’ he enjoys it for a bit, then, from time to time, asks to be put down in his bed. It’s a sweet request and one I surely oblige immediately. I kiss him goodnight and tell him I’ll see him soon, as we still like to take him in with us when he wakes in the night. It used to be consistently between 2 and 3 but now is often at 4 and even later.

I can’t really untrain him anymore. I won’t do it, I’ll let him grow up, of course. But from time to time, when it won’t hurt him, I might take advantage of my position and keep him my little boy a little boy for a little longer than he needs to be, and a little shorter than I’d like him to be. We’ll meet in the middle between his need to grow up and my need to hold on. Time will come when he will need to shed the burden of me, the burden he can hardly see as it is so buried in his need for me at the moment. Someday these roles will be reversed. I’ll need him more than he’ll need me. Perhaps it will have always been the case, for that matter. But someday he’ll surely notice. When he does, when he sees that my need for him is more than his need for me I hope he’ll know how much I’ll appreciate his concern and his efforts. I hope he’ll have an understanding of how much it will mean to me.



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