Last night, there was a lot of crying in my daughter’s room at bedtime. But this time my daughter wasn’t the one doing the crying.
I’ve long been a sentimental guy, but in recent years–especially since getting married–I more often and more easily find myself trapped in a glass case of emotion.1 I tear up at TV shows, I tear up at movies, I tear up at heartwarming viral videos. And last night, I teared up at the thought of my 9-month-old daughter growing up.
Now this seems like an obvious thing for a parent to get emotional about, and perhaps you’re wondering why this thought hadn’t already reduced me to tears at an earlier point in the last nine months. I’m not sure. All I can say for sure is that when I looked at Maddie last night, I saw a baby quickly transforming into a little girl right before my eyes. She sat in her high chair at dinner and smiled, laughed and clapped in response to us. She played with her toys and jabbered to herself. She picked up small scraps of bread and ate them. When did she develop so many skills?! The reality set in that Maddie will never be as young as she was when you started reading this sentence.
I think the fact that she is in the 1st percentile for height2 and the 4th percentile for weight3 has lulled me into a false sense of security about the fact of her ultimate growing up. While she is clearly very intelligent and learning more about how to influence the world around her every day, she’s still such a physically tiny person that I often forget I’m just a few months away from being the father of a one-year-old.
Where did the time go? Am I savoring every second of it? At our nightly PJ party yesterday4, these questions were crossing my mind and forcing fat tears to stream down my face. Most nights, when the PJ party is over, I shut off the lights, turn on the white noise machine and try to get Maddie to sleep as quickly as possible so I can make my exit and proceed with my evening. Maddie always begins to whimper5, knowing that her day is coming to a close and rages against the dying of the light. This routine has been relatively the same for months now: PJ party, putting her on my shoulder and patting her to sleep, gently placing her in her crib and trying to escape without her waking up. To her credit, this method usually works pretty well–unless she is overtired, under the weather or otherwise distracted.
The tried and true recipe was working perfectly once again, and ordinarily I would have been thrilled with my luck at getting her to sleep so easily.6 But last night, I didn’t want to put her down. She sweetly and instantly laid her head down on my shoulder, and I could feel the soft heaving of her tiny body breathing in and out against my chest. She eventually gave her signature resolute yawn that means she has completely accepted her sleepy fate, and her head sank further into that perfect spot between my shoulder and my neck. The tears flowed faster at this point, as I saw myself from above—holding this perfect little girl that I had helped to create and truly feeling the paternal love flowing between us.
Why should I put her down? I can keep her so safe like this. I had frequently been telling people that each stage of Maddie’s growth was better than the last, but that was clearly a lie. This is the best stage, and as long as I keep holding her, it will last forever, right? She’ll always look up and smile maniacally at me when I come home from work—stretching out her arm in my direction as if to say, “Yes! Daddy! I love you so much and I’m so glad you’re here!” She’ll always remain small enough that I can easily lift her into the air or envelop her in a hug. She’ll always find that place on my shoulder and fall peacefully to sleep. If I put her down, she gets one night closer to growing up and outgrowing so many of the day-to-day moments and interactions that I simultaneously cherish and take for granted.
I eventually transferred her into her crib, mainly because I was afraid my near-sobbing7 would disturb her tranquility.8 I took one last look at her tiny frame sleeping peacefully in the dark and turned to leave the room.
In the light of a new day, I am aware that my deep pangs of guilt at not fully enjoying every moment of Maddie minutia and my misguided greed at wanting her to remain a baby forever are a bit over the top. Anyone who reads this blog or follows my incessant proud papa social media posts knows that I am indeed cherishing each second to the best of my ability. But the lingering lesson from last night’s tissue festival was just how much I love Maddie. It’s one thing to say it and know it, but yesterday was a moment of purely feeling it. I am her father, and my love for her is beyond words.
There will be so many tears in our future together. There will be tears of sadness and anger and fear. There will be tears of joy and pride and laughter. There will be so many experiences for me and the little girl I rocked to sleep last night, and I’m tearing up again9 in anticipation of it all. These last nine months have been the wildest and most rewarding adventure of my life, and I cannot overstate my gratitude for the tremendous blessing of having a child to nurture. Each day is a new sentence in the chapters that will make up the story of Maddie’s life, and while it sometimes feels like I’m at my favorite part of the story right now, I’m excited to see what twists and turns lie ahead.
- Which is apparently the cool way to be a dad now. Right, Jimmy Kimmel?
- Yes, you read that correctly.
- Don’t worry, her head size is still in the 89th percentile!
- a tradition whereby I put Maddie in her crib, change her into her pajamas, and play with her until she gets sleepy/crabby, usually to the tune of the Pandora Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons station
- or worse
- Off to the living room to watch the Cubs game!
- Yeah, it got bad.
- I mean, I wanted to watch the Cubs eventually…
- in a good way!