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A photo of my daughter, Marlowe, hangs in my office. She is 6 months old in that moment. It’s her half-birthday. My wife is kissing the side of her head. That photo makes me smile every day.
Today, my daughter is almost 5 years old. She is everything a person could want in a young daughter — inquisitive, compassionate, funny. She adores her baby brother, who has just turned 3 and is very much no longer a baby.
She still asks me to carry her up the stairs at night, and down the stairs in the morning. She still yells my name in delight when I come home. She still, occasionally, wants me to hang out with her while she goes to the bathroom.
She is not the baby from the first photo. That child feels gone to me.
There are still pieces of baby Marlowe to be found, if you look closely. Her eyes are the same, brilliant blue and filled with a mix of wonder and caution. Her face is similar, but it’s easier to see the older Marlowe in a baby photo than the other way around. But gradually, like drops of paint falling a top a finished portrait, the baby that Marlowe used to be is being replaced by this new little girl.
One day she’ll stop watching the same episodes of Paw Patrol on repeat.
I love my children more than life itself. Nothing could take away the pride and adoration I have for those 2. Yet, there are days where it feels like I have a third child, one long missing, one I’ll never get back.
My first day back to work after Marlowe was born, I was in a staff meeting. I remember becoming aware, for the first time, that my time was being wasted. I’m a good employee. I work hard and I place a great value on being committed to my colleagues and the vision of my employers.
But now I had a daughter, and this meeting was little more than a public performance of an email, and me a captive audience.
I have better shit to do, I realized.
I felt a physical yearning to hold her, to feel her tiny body snuggled in my arms.
Shortly after my daughter was born, my wife had a bad reaction to a medication. Back to the hospital we went, where we checked her in for the night. I went home with Marlowe and my mother-in-law.
I wrapped Marlowe up twice that evening, just to be sure her arms were tucked in and that she would be warm. I laid her down in a co-sleeper next to my wife’s side of the bed. I got in, momentarily thrown off by my new position — the covers felt different, the bedside table was on the wrong side, and my daughter was inches away from me.
I shifted my body sideways, anxious of what would happen if I rolled over too far in the night. I lightly placed my fingers on Marlowe’s torso to feel her breathing, and just left them there for an hour or so, feeling the cotton wrap gently rise and fall.
She’s an evolution of that baby born in 2011, an incredible little wonder, but that evolution came at a cost.
It was our first night alone together, the first time I was solely responsible for getting her through the night, and I admit I was terrified I would make a mistake. The first weeks of being a parent coupled with an unusually high anxiety level can really work you up about all the possible things that can go horribly wrong with a baby.
She slept through the night just fine, of course.
Today, my daughter can dress herself, mostly. Pants, she’s an ace. Shirts are a whole different story. One day she’ll be able to put on an entire outfit without help. One day she’ll do it alone, in her room, and will walk down the stairs ready for the day without the need for either her mama or myself.
One day she’ll stop watching the same episodes of Paw Patrol on repeat. One day, her cherished Sky stuffy will be placed in a donation bag. Her favorite food will cease to be macaroni and cheese. When I come home, she’ll just say hello, and then go about her own life.
I can’t hold my daughter in my hands anymore. My little companion, the one who sat next to me in a rocker in the summer of 2012, the last summer before my professional life went completely sideways, is not the same little girl who gleefully recites the things she’s learned this week or the games she has played. She’s an evolution of that baby born in 2011, an incredible little wonder, but that evolution came at a cost.
There are days I miss my baby.
The next time I see her will likely go like this:
I’ll walk inside my house. Our youngest dog will behave like a complete lunatic, jumping all over me as I try to shut the door. Marlowe will scream “Daddy!” She’ll run into the foyer and patiently wait for the dog to lose interest and give her room to give me a hug.
My daughter, right now, is a snapshot of a girl who will not be here tomorrow.
I will pick her up. She’ll be heavier than the last time I saw her. Maybe just an ounce. I’ll probably not notice, but I’ll know, deep inside, that time is working on her.
I’ll try to make breakfast in the morning. It will take close to an hour and a half, because that’s just how the mornings go. She’ll ask to watch a show I know for a fact she watched yesterday. I’ll put it on, and I’ll try to remember that there will be a day when I’ll no longer hear this annoying theme song anymore, and part of me will miss it.
We’ll play a bit. I’ll let them watch some more TV. I’ll get busy with the house and she’ll ask if we can play another game. I’ll ask her to give me a minute to finish some mundane chore, and that minute will go on far too long. (I’m making a mental note now to not do this.)
I’ll put her to bed and she may ask to read a story. There are over a hundred books on her shelf, at least, and I hope we’ll make it through all of them. Her favorite story when she was 3 was Dr. Seuss’s What Was I Scared Of? That thing had to be read, complete with audience interaction, Every. Single. Night.
I cannot remember the last time it came off the shelf.
I’ll tuck her in and we’ll do our goodnight ritual. One hug, one kiss, one tickle, one pinch on the nose. In that order. I’m going to cherish it. I’m sure, by now, you know why.
She is everything a person could want in a young daughter — inquisitive, compassionate, funny.
My daughter, right now, is a snapshot of a girl who will not be here tomorrow. She’ll be similar, seemingly identical, but one day I’m going to look at a photo from September 2016 and try to see the lines in her face that made it through maturity, the telltales signs of my baby etched into the woman she’ll become.
I no longer work full time in the room where I hung up that picture of Marlowe. It’s still my shop, but I have a desk all the way across the building this year. I still stop by each morning.
I look at that photo for a moment, and then I go on with the day. I smile. It’s not always without pain, but it’s never unpleasant. It reminds me of the little evolutions in life that we must be careful not to miss.
Joseph Yow is a teacher, theatre artist, occasional writer.