Earlier this week, I came downstairs to find my two-year-old daughter playing with a toy. I know, hardly newsworthy. To make matters worse, she was doing absolutely nothing unusual with it. Just standing in the living room, trying to open it up to find the switch that would make it play music.
“I’m making it sing, Daddy.”
Without a word, I went back up the stairs, barely making it out of her sight before collapsing into a shapeless mass of hysterical parent. And for the rest of the morning, my level of function lay somewhere between “comatose” and “diaper-changing robot zombie.”
I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that this wasn’t just any old toy. Actually, you’d be wrong. It wasn’t anything particularly special. It was a colorful, musical ladybug that used to hang from the arches of a play mat that my daughter spent many hours in as a baby. A nice toy, one that got played with a lot, but not one that holds a lot of significance. The significance lay in what was missing: the play mat. As I watched my daughter probe the inner workings of a plaything that at one time must have seemed magical, my eyes were opened to a horrible reality: my little girl is no longer a baby. I suppose she hasn’t been for a while. I just hadn’t realized it before then.
I used to wonder why parents cry at weddings, graduations—all of the important milestones in their children’s lives. “They’re tears of joy,” I was told, and until the incident with the toy ladybug, I believed it. I’m not saying there isn’t joy behind the tears, but the tears are not birthed from joy. They’re not birthed from sadness, either. They’re tears of pain. Exciting as it is to watch our children change and grow, each new step involves letting them go just a little bit, and that hurts like an unfrozen root canal no matter how ready you think you are.
What I wouldn’t pay to hop a DeLorean back to when she was a baby, just for one day. Not for any kind of special day. Just one of those ordinary days. I want to watch her wiggle with excitement when I come to get her from her crib in the morning. I want to clean cereal out of her hair after breakfast and fight to get her to eat her vegetables at lunch. I want to read her a whole stack of those boring-as-hell baby books and give her a long, frustrating overnight feeding at three in the morning. I want every wonderful and horrible moment, especially the ones I wished away at the time, just one more time. And I want to see that look of awe and wonder she used to get just from looking at me, back before she knew I was only human. Back when I could protect her from everything and rescue her from anything.
For the record, nobody asked me if I was ready for her to graduate out of babyhood. Whoever signed off on this must be itching for a piece of my mind. Don’t they know how this works? She’s my daughter, God. She’s mine. How dare you expect me to let her grow up? But grow up she will, whether I want it or not. And so will her sister, who turned one yesterday (there’s a whole other blog post in there, but I’ll spare you that one). And growing up is exactly what I want them to do. I’m not raising little girls, after all. I’m raising women who are going to make a difference in this messed-up world. Unfortunately for me, the more I invest in them at each stage of their growth, the more it’s going to hurt when they move on to the next one. Fortunately for them, I know the pain is only temporary, and the dividends make it well worth it. Someday, when I have to release them into this big, scary world on their own, I hope it nearly kills me. But only nearly, because I don’t want to miss what comes next.