Moonlight Exposition

When I was young, my parents spent a great deal of effort teaching me things. I gravitated toward random trivia and facts. My theory is that this was due in part to the fact that my mother was a science fiction fan (specifically a Trekkie), which caused me to happen onto all sorts of various bits of knowledge. This was stuff that I could out-smart the other kids in class with, so I held onto it. I was the geeky kid who knew the names of all the dinosaurs, and could name all of the comic book characters in the educational comics that the teachers handed out to teach us to not do drugs.

When I was in the second grade, our teacher was teaching a unit on astronomy. Now, I remember precious little about the second grade, and what I do remember is embarrassing, but I fondly remember that day, because the teacher was talking about the moon. I raised my hand and proudly offered my bit of knowledge: the moon doesn’t glow on it’s own, I claimed. It glows because it’s reflecting the sun’s light from the other side of the globe.

The other children scoffed at this outlandish idea. And then the teacher vindicated me, proclaiming that I was correct.

I really like that memory.
Last week, I was unloading our daughter from the car upon arriving home for the evening. It was just dark out, and she pointed up to the sky and, with her (amazingly, profoundly, ridiculously) advanced verbal skills, began to describe to me how the full moon was glowing. And, so, I began explaining to her how it was reflecting the sun’s light from the other side of the globe.
Now, I hold absolutely no misconception that our two-year-old will have learned anything about astronomy that night. After all, night still happens “because the sun has gone to bed.” And those sorts of poetic explanations are far more important right now than any concrete, scientific facts. I loved seeing the world through her eyes in that moment, though…experiencing her wonder as she observes the things that I take for granted. It forces me to notice things again…things to which I had long ago grown de-sensitized. I enjoy explaining these sorts of things to her…the unique and the mundane, but especially the unique…because it’s more about building the habit of doing so at this point, I think.
When I was in the fifth grade (I think this was in the fifth grade), concluding my elementary school career, I remember reading a mystery for a class reading assignment. The teacher asked us to process clues in the story, and come to conclusions about how the crime had been committed. I offered that the glass from the broken window was laying outside the home, and thus someone hadn’t broken the window in, but rather it had been broken from the outside.
Yeah…my geekiness manifested early…
That was another one of those proud moments when I was vindicated by the teacher’s affirmation. I want a lot of those in our daughter’s life, and I think that they begin with Karen and I exposing her to random pieces of knowledge. That knowledge builds on itself. The way that the moon glows is just the beginning.
A very important beginning.
And I’m so privileged to get to share it.

Labor Day Trip

Last weekend was a holiday weekend in the U.S., Labor Day, a day which was originally intended for those in professions like customer service and retail to have a day off (my feelings about how its anything but that is the subject of another post). We Americans recognize Labor Day as the unofficial end of summer, as many public school systems start soon after that weekend if they already had not, and the weather begins to be cooler as we enter September.

For the long weekend, Karen and I had planned a final beach excursion for the summer. I’m thoroughly enjoying the fact that we can now be at the coast in 40 minutes or less, and our daughter has shown an early love of the water. Still, cold weather comes early to New England, so there won’t be many of these day trips left (true New Englanders call it “cool” now, but this is one of the ways that I can’t help but reveal that I’m a transplant).

We knew that our planned beach trip was off when we awoke to a steady rain on Monday morning, and so we set out to find other activities that we could do with our daughter (to whom I was already having to explain that she wouldn’t get to go to the beach as planned…did I mention she’s not yet two?). After realizing that lack of reservations and other logistical issues were ruling our some museum trips that we wanted to take, we had resigned ourselves to catch up on some reading when it happened. Our daughter, enthusiastically racing across the living room to show me something, tripped, and went full-tilt and face-first…or, more precisely, nose-first…into the sofa.

Now, I’m usually the excitable parent, while Karen is the calm and unshakable one. I’m the one who is generally ready to go to extreme solutions while Karen is the one shaking her head and telling me that said extreme solution isn’t necessary (I once wanted to call Poison Control because she put a sticker in her mouth. Don’t judge, okay? I’ve never done this parenting thing before). So, when Karen succinctly indicated that medical attention was likely warranted, I knew that I was correct in my assumption that we had a situation on our hands.

And, so, Labor Day 2013 saw our daughter’s first injury-related rush to an urgent care. Not an awesome way to spend the day.

It turns out that, as bad as it looked, there was nothing there that a cold pack, Tylenol, and some TLC wouldn’t cure. In fact, our daughter woke the next morning to tell me first thing that “My boo-boo feels much better” (did I mention she’s not yet two??).  Insert enormous sigh of relief here. I was thinking, though, that, as much of a bummer as it was to spend our Labor Day in such a way, it was much more tragic for our little girl. She was having a grand time running and playing and showing us things that she could do and build with her toys, when her grand time came to a screeching halt by a mere mis-step. Six inches the other way, and what had painfully disrupted her entire day would simply have been another toddler’s fall. There’s something absolutely heart-breaking about the entire situation when I pause to see this from her tiny perspective.

Many things change, I’ve found, when viewed from her perspective. Monday’s lost plans wouldn’t have been nearly as sad had the day not involved an injured little girl. It’s one of those ways in which being a father has changed me. I’ve never found myself so easily seeing the world from someone else’s point of view before now.

Something equally as huge is the way in which having a daughter makes me self-aware. I see myself through her eyes, as the superhero who can fix anything…any broken toy, the shoe that gets stuck and she can’t take off on her own. I’m the one who will carry her up the steps that she’s too tired to climb. In her words, “Daddy will fix it.” I’m in no way worthy of that adoration.

Both of these awarenesses…seeing the world and seeing myself from her perspective…has changed me a great deal as a human being.

The result is humbling in ways that I can’t even find words to write.

Cookies and Milk

Cookie Monster, our daughter's new favorite toy

The scheduling of being a full-time student has been tighter than I had ever expected now that I have added “father” to my list of roles played each day. Squeezing in work, school, family, and occasional sleep requires approximately five more hours than the 24 I have to work with.

I also have difficulty focusing at times as I stop to be astounded by the human becoming that is our beautiful little girl, running and talking (with a vocabulary that far exceeds her age, mind you) and telling Daddy and Mommy alike that she loves us. Just this afternoon as I arrived home from class she came running across our driveway to meet me, all grins and excitement at my homecoming. With commutes and various other complications factored in, though, most weeknights end with my having just enough time to have dinner with my wife and daughter and maybe an hour of playtime before putting that little angel to bed.

Something that I said before we even had our daughter…a responsibility that weighs heavily on my thoughts…is that it is non-negotiable for me, absolutely critical,  that our daughter grow up feeling safe talking to me about anything, knowing that she can tell me anything, that I will never judge her, and that I will always be on her side. The depth of relationship I long to have with her by nature conflicts with my responsibility to provide a stable environment for her, because the latter involves a moderately successful career (and, thus, the school to make said career possible), which pulls me away from home.

How to reconcile these two important roles?

Sundays are the day that always give me time, and so I knew that would be part of the answer. And, one day, I was dreaming back to fond memories of our life in Virginia from only several months ago, and I remembered, one night when Karen was teaching her night class, taking our daughter with me to a nearby restaurant so that I could get a cheeseburger. She was, of course, far too young for anything but a bottle at the time, but we had great fun (and she managed to grab the attention of every waitress in the place…did I mention that she inherited her mother’s beauty?).

Then, I experienced a collision of ideas that results in inspiration. I needed to repeat such an excursion on a regular basis, and Sundays seemed to be free. And, since it only seems logical that I pass down my love of cookies to her (Karen affectionately refers to me as “cookie monster”), the obvious (and affordable) solution seemed to be cookies and milk.

Because, every child should love cookies and milk!

So, every Sunday afternoon for the past three months, I have announced to our daughter that we’re going for “cookies and milk!” She has began to jump for joy and repeat, in her adorably mis-pronounced way, “tooties and milt!” And, off we go to a coffee shop or some similar arrangement, where we split a cookie and have Daddy-daughter time.

Every Sunday.

Okay, there was an exception one weekend caused by an unexpected night of projectile vomiting, but that one notwithstanding….every Sunday.

My point with this isn’t just a routine or a ritual, though. When Karen and I were expecting, I had coffee with one of my spiritual leaders. He recalled his fear upon discovering that he and his wife were expecting their first, and he said that raising your child is a chance to correct many of the things that you’ve done wrong, to help your child not make those same mistakes. I’ve hurt those that I love by not being fully present because of the distractions of multiple responsibilities. I’m not proud of that. I want our daughter to know right up front that, whatever else is going on, Daddy will always carve out dedicated time for her. I also hope that, for the rest of her life until (and even after) she is an adult and makes her own way in this world from which I often desire so intensely to protect her, that, whatever is happening in her life, whatever troubles keep her awake or concerns that she carries, she will always be able have cookies and milk with Daddy and tell me anything. Anything. Because I want her to know that I will always listen, and that her Daddy always loves her and will make time for her.

I don’t know if this will take off, if she will grow to dislike cookies or milk (perish the thought, but it’s possible), or if it will survive the teenage years in which it will be less than cool to have a childhood snack with her father. Perhaps, even if it falls victim to such a fate, it will rebound later in life. The important thing, though, is not the snack itself, but the time. The more she talks, the more I will incline my ear to listen. And, one day, perhaps she will interrupt my work to tap me on the shoulder with a concerned look and say something to the effect of, “Daddy? I need to talk. Cookies and milk?”

At which point, life will stop and my attention will belong solely to her for whatever she needs. And, should she ever read this blog and perhaps this entry later in her life, then know, dearest, that you have my attention whenever you need it.

Because I never knew that I could love anyone this much, and this routine seems the most practical way to implement my desire for her to know that very thing.