Friday, June 22, 2012
It's hard to believe that I've been a father for just over a year now, but it's true.
Baby Van Horn is now about ten inches longer now than she was at birth, and about triple her original weight. She calls me "Da-da" and may finally be getting the hang of "Ma-ma". She smiles and waves. She stands and is working hard on both walking and standing without using objects to brace herself on the way up. She's a speed demon on all fours, but moves forward with her body at a very slight angle, which makes me smile. She has the best, happiest-sounding laugh I have ever heard.
It has been astounding to see how difficult even simple tasks most of us take for granted really are when a baby attempts them for the first time; and it has been even more delightful to see my little daughter undaunted and tackling them all with gusto. I recall thinking for weeks that she was on the cusp of crawling, only to learn things like this: (1) One does have to conceive of the idea of leaning forward from a sitting position; (2) Once one leans forward, one must place one's hands down to prevent a face plant; (3) Once in the crawling position, there is a definite sequence of movements involved in forward locomotion; and (4) scooting on one's behind isn't a shortcut to enlightenment -- I mean, crawling. It was funny, for example, watching her lean forward, and then, already being out of ideas, retreat. I tried showing her what to do a couple of times, but nothing sunk in: How could it have? If she didn't know enough to think of the next "obvious" thing, she wouldn't realize what I was wanting to do. I think I now really know what tabula rasa means. But keep reading for another example.
This isn't to say that fatherhood is a bed of roses. I am mostly a stay-at-home parent, and to say I had to grow into the role would be a gross understatement. My wife and I took classes before the baby came. They helped, and I'm glad we took them, but every baby and every parent is unique. There's simply no way to become completely prepared.
Our baby's biggest challenge is sleep. It may seem incredible, but something fatherhood has taught me is that humans must learn everything, even to associate the feeling of being tired with the action of going to sleep. Our baby hasn't, yet, although maybe she's beginning to. (She has, lately, started putting the side of her head down against my chest as if to signal that she's ready to sleep.) On top of that, we succumbed to the siren call of co-sleeping. We're getting ready to gird our loins and sleep train her, so she can fall asleep (and stay asleep) without being held. We tried once, about a month ago, but failed since Momma Van Horn and I weren't on the same page. Not fun at all. And it won't be fun doing it when we are on the same page, but we will be on the same page for the next attempt.
My biggest challenge has been my own personality. I'm very introverted, and paying constant attention to another person, let alone having to help her with almost everything, took a lot of getting used to. (I'm still getting used to it.) I also had to become comfortable socially with the role, unusual for a man, of being the primary caregiver for our daughter. Making friends with another stay-at-home dad in my neighborhood has helped a lot, but there will be weird moments for as long as I'm doing this. For example, on the first day of a new parenting class/organized play-date for the babies, I was waiting and noticed my adult classmates, all women, having a conversation nearby. I was close to joining them when I heard the phrase "blocked duct" and realized that that would probably not be most opportune time to introduce myself!
As I said, I am mostly a stay-at-home dad. I was recently at a Starbucks waiting alone to meet a potential consulting client. The baby was at home with a sitter, and I recalled the many times when, on walks with the baby, I'd looked at coffee shops and found myself wishing I could just sit at one for a few hours with my laptop and work any time I wanted to. The job had the potential to be quite time-consuming, but, I assured myself, I'd cultivated enough good baby sitters to take something like it on short notice. As I was thinking along those lines, something like the following thought hit me out of the blue, "Well, you've got your wish now." That left me with a lump in my throat for a few minutes as I realized I missed my daughter and wondered how she was doing. Going back to work full time is going to be a mixed bag for me when I do.
Speaking of sleep problems, the baby decided that 5:30 a.m. was a great time to wake up this morning, and interrupted me. (Usually, I'm done writing by that time, but it's still way early for her.) That's just as well: I see that I was beginning to ramble. She stopped me at just enough detail to help me record this fleeting time in our lives without droning on too much.
But I do have one more thing, which is what spurred this post to begin with. Sunday, Mrs. Van Horn and I hired a sitter and went out for brunch and an early showing of Men in Black 3. Before we left that morning, I'd noticed that the baby's thumb was black and correctly guessed that I'd find her thumb print on my Father's Day card. By the time I got to the card at brunch, I'd forgotten the prediction and looked right at the bouquet of flowers at the right, thinking that they were just part of the original card. What a great symbol of the challenge and beauty of parenthood for me! I have never done something that can make me feel so wise one moment and so stupid the next. The beauty of it is what brings perspective.
Thank you, Momma and Baby Van Horn!