Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The father's long journey

On Tuesdays, Terry babysits a 2-year-old girl named Ava. Ava gets dropped off around 7 in the morning and doesn't leave until 5 or 5:30 in the afternoon, so we see a lot of her when she's here.

Like many 2-year-olds, Ava takes afternoon naps. I am insanely jealous of Ava for this. I would give almost anything (and I'm not kidding) for the privilege of taking afternoon naps. Or morning naps. Or just about any kind of nap to supplement the sleep I get at night.

Anyway, Ava takes naps. She does this in a playpen Terry keeps in our walk-in closet. She puts Ava down in there, turns on a fan for white noise, and usually has a few hours to herself after that. Ava is an expert sleeper, at least when she really wants to be.

A lot of times after Ava leaves, I'll come home from work and the playpen will still be set up in the closet. Often I'll just grumble about it and walk around the playpen as I take off my work clothes and put on whatever clothes are needed for that evening's activities.

But other times I'll stow the playpen away myself, thus taking at least one small thing off of Terry's seemingly endless to-do list. It's one of those Pack and Play models that folds up into a relatively compact 3-foot rectangle. We've had it since 1994, the year my oldest daughter was born. I have put up and taken down that playpen so many times in the ensuing 18 years, I'm pretty sure I could do it in my sleep (and I probably have done just that at some point when one of our kids or another was keeping us up nights).

I generally don't think anything of it, because this is a chore that literally takes all of 60 seconds to complete. But the other day I was taking down the playpen and it felt strange to me. Really strange. Like it belonged to someone else.

Never mind that this playpen is ours and always has been ours. Never mind that Terry is probably the only person who has lugged it around more than I have, or that all five of my kids have slept and/or played in it at some point in their lives. It just didn't feel like it had anything to do with me.

Nowadays, almost nothing related to my kids' babyhood feels connected to me. I come across an old baby toy and it seems like it's from someone else's life altogether. I feel so far removed from baby toys and bottles and playpens and strollers and pacifiers and diapers and the whole thing that it's hard to believe I helped raise five kids. You could almost convince me we didn't have any of them when they were babies, and that instead someone dropped each of them off at our house when they turned 6 years old.

I know that's not true, of course. There is photographic evidence that I have been, in fact, a father of newborns. And infants and toddlers, too. There are all sorts of pictures of me holding babies, burping babies, feeding babies, sleeping with babies on my chest, etc. And I remember it all. But still, there's this strange feeling that it happened to someone else years and years and years ago. I'm only 42. Why do I feel like this?

I guess it's because I'm inundated with Older Kid Experiences now: middle school, high school, driving lessons, college tours, etc. We still have little Jack tying us back to pre-adolescence, but as far as I can tell, it has been 100 years since he was born. It's all just so distant.

Since I've become aware of this strange feeling, I've been hoping my brain could make some sense of it. After all, I've been a father for less than 20 years. That's really not all that long, when you think about it. It's not like I'm an 80-year-old grandpa whose parenting years are far, far behind him. I'm still in the middle of this great test, and I'll continue being in the middle of it for many more years.

But still, I feel...finished with part of it, I guess. Maybe this is God's way of telling me, "Good job, young man. (NOTE: To God, we're all young.) You got through this much of it just fine, like I said you would. Remember all those times you doubted whether you could take one more night of walking the floor with a crying baby? Those days at work when you wondered whether you would make ends meet? Those times when you questioned whether you were any good at being a dad? I know you still ask those questions. But I want you to realize how far you've come, and I want you to realize that you'll make it to the end.

"And most of all, I want you to continue relying on Me. I know sometimes you forget I'm there, and that's OK. For a little while, at least. I'll always be there to nudge you and remind you where your strength comes from. So just keep on going. You'll always be a parent, just like I will always be Your Father, and you still have a long way to go. But having come this far should tell you that you're in good hands."

Yeah, that's probably it.


  1. Thanks Scott, I really enjoyed reading this one today! It made me smile thinking back to when mine were "little ones".

  2. Thanks, Josh. Just took a look at your blog and found myself wanting to spend more time than I have right now going through your posts and links. Great stuff. Thanks for the comment!