It’s a quarter after 4 a.m. when I first hear it. It starts as a few whimpers, then a few waahs, and before long its full-blown hysteria. I open one eye and glance over at Liz, my fiancée, to see if she hears it, too. Nope, she’s sound asleep. Or at least she’s pretending to be. So I do what a lot of new dads in my situation would do: I shut my eyes and pretend to be asleep, too.
Neither one of us wants to acknowledge the fact that Lucy, our then-6-week-old daughter, is having a meltdown a mere two feet away in her bassinet. Because acknowledging it would mean getting up—and getting up could mean a diaper change and an all-night rock-athon. So we play our little game of who’s MORE asleep.
Eventually I can’t take it anymore and jump
out of bed. I scoop up Lucy and inspect the damage, resigned to the fact that I’m probably not sleeping anymore tonight. (Liz was having to do all the hard work during the day back then while on maternity leave—the feeding, dressing, and general parenting—so I kind of owed her this.)
I wrote the above portion almost a year ago to the date, just a few weeks after becoming a new dad. And while there would be plenty more long days and longer nights to come, I’m happy to report that we made it through Lucy’s first year relatively unscathed. One thing that really helped along the way was remembering a bit of dad-wisdom passed on to me by a co-worker of mine, Eric McKay. “The days are going to be long,” he told me, “but the years will be short.”
And truly, this past year has felt both painfully long and short at times. It’s also come with plenty of teachable moments. For instance, we learned that dog food should never be put in your baby’s reach (they’ll devour it). We learned that zippers are always preferable to snaps—but magnet pajamas are really the way to go. We also learned that you should never EVER leave the house without a spare outfit on hand, because Murphy’s Law of blowouts will no doubt strike at the worst possible time. (Like, say, right before your child is supposed to have her picture taken on Santa’s lap.)
But the biggest lesson we learned is that babies don’t come with an on/off switch. There is always an endless list of chores to do to satisfy their needs—diapers to change, bottles to wash, tiny toenails to trim—and there are a million tiny nuances you’re forced to figure out on the fly. “Is the bath water too hot? Is her forehead supposed to peel? Is that color I see in the diaper normal? How am I supposed to fit her giant head through this tiny shirt opening?”
Luckily, though, things do start to get a lot easier after those first few months. (Well, maybe “easier” isn’t the right word. But things definitely get … different.) Lucy eventually fell into a schedule, so we knew when it was time for a nap or time to feed. She also started sleeping through the night without a peep. (There was one night she slept so soundly that we stayed awake all night watching her, not totally convinced she was alive.)
By three months she could hold her head up, and by six she could sit up and play with the dogs. She said her first words around eight months, and by nine months she was crawling like a pro. Along the way, we watched her transform from a helpless blob into a curious little human with her own colorful personality—our friendly little maniac.
Just the other day, Liz and I watched as Lucy—now 13 months—rose up and walked right away from us while we were sitting on the couch. She wobbled her way into the kitchen, looked back with a grin, then continued to toddle her way clear out of sight. It was at that moment I started to understand just how short and precious this time we have is—not only with her, but with each other—and how important it is to savor whatever we can. Because as long as the days can feel at times, the years truly are short…
Here’s to savoring moments big and small this month, even if it means losing a little sleep along the way. Happy Thanksgiving out there.