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My daughter turns one next week. On June 13, 2016, my wife and I will have succeeded in keeping our baby alive for 365 days. This is a big win. Especially considering that we have killed every plant we’ve ever owned, occasionally forget to feed our cats, and spend a large portion of our waking hours talking about decisions made by fictional characters from television or books.
In celebration of this miraculous life our daughter has lived in spite of her parents being little more than children themselves, I’d like to share some things I have learned in the past year. In no particular order:
1. I Have A Dramatic Sigh
When I’m stressed out — which does happen, even though I’m raising the most brilliant child on the planet— I sigh loudly, with my whole body. It’s as if I’ve just climbed a mountain, run a marathon, given birth. At the end of a trying day, it really feels like that. Well, not like giving birth. No man knows what that feels like, and as a result, no man has the right to compare anything he is experiencing to giving birth. Except maybe digesting a basketball.
2. I Never Knew Fear Until My Wife’s C-Section
Speaking of giving birth, though I didn’t go through with it, despite my wife’s hope that I would be the first man in the history of history to carry and deliver a child, I have never felt more afraid than in the 5 minutes before the C-section, while I waited for the doctors to numb Jenny from the neck down. By myself in what would eventually be our recovery room, I have never felt more alone. I don’t pray much anymore, but I prayed then. If there is a god, she or he was probably like, “Where has this guy been? I haven’t heard from him since The Epic Hangover of 2007. Okay, lay it on me, kid.” And I did.
3. The Most Valuable Things We Own, Aside From Our Dignity Or Whatever, Are Poop Wipes
4. Single Parents Are Heroes
Maybe even gods. Seriously. My wife travels for work from time to time, and when I have to take care of that little ball of awesome all by myself for 3 or 4 days in a row, I often forget to eat, forget to shower, and forget how to talk to adult-sized humans. I want to personally shake the hands of all the single parents in the world. I want them to be on Sportscenter’s Top 10 Plays for a standing diaper change in a public restroom that doesn’t have a Koala Care table, not some overpaid goofball on PEDs who can hit a hanging fastball out of the park.
5. I Can Hold My Pee A Lot Longer Than I Thought I Could
6. The Importance Of Colors
An unsettling number of strangers will call your daughter he unless you have her dressed in pink clothes. Some will even get angry with you for not dressing her in pink clothes. Obviously, their error is all your fault. If only you had bought more frilly pink Minnie Mouse onesies to wear. But you didn’t, you bleeding-heart non-gender-role abiding hippie.
7. I Thought I Knew Fatigue
Then I lived through the first 10 months of my daughter’s life.
8. The Hardest Thing I Have Ever Tried To Do Is Cut An Infant’s Fingernails
(Meaning my daughter’s fingernails — not those of some random infant.) The margin for error is literally microscopic. We have a friend who’s a Cleveland police officer, a guy who’s been in the thick of some absolutely awful situations, and he refuses to cut his daughter’s fingernails. He makes his wife do it. “That’s the one thing I won’t do,” he says.
9. I Thought I Knew Beauty
Then I saw my daughter playing in the sand at the edge of the ocean for the first time.
10. I Really Like Coffee
My body really likes coffee. Aside from the occasional cup of decaf, my wife doesn’t drink coffee. She doesn’t drink other caffeinated beverages either: more evidence of her superhuman, otherworldly powers.
11. Working A Job While Also Raising A Tiny Human Can Be Extremely Tough
Put aside the obvious fatigue from sleep deprivation, and there’s still the possibility that you’ll grow to resent that job, even if you love it, because it’s one more thing that takes you away from your new favorite (crying, pooping) thing on the planet. But all that time you put into rocking, feeding, and wiping, especially when your kid starts to reward you with that brilliant smile of hers, makes it easier to tolerate the occasional ridiculousness of grown humans. I remember a server at the bar where I worked going off, cussing for a full minute because a guest asked her to remove the pepper from the garnish on his Bloody Mary. I just laughed and laughed, thinking, damn, maybe her parents didn’t wipe her butt enough when she was a baby. Because she’s still a baby now.
12. Enjoy The Little Things
If you’re having a bad day, just watch a baby do a face plant into a birthday cake.
13. You Have To Teach A Baby To Sleep
We resisted what gets labeled “sleep training” for a long time because we thought it meant leaving your child to “cry it out” for insanely long periods of time. Then a friend recommended a book called The Baby Sleep Solution, and after putting its techniques to use and then feeling nearly drunk on having a full night’s sleep for the first time in 10 months, we realized how limited our thinking had been, and just how little we understood what our daughter needed from us in order to learn how to sleep. We needed to teach her. Sleep teaching — that’s what my wife calls it. Training makes her sound like a dog. And even though she recently learned how to pant and woof like a dog, which, yes, is adorable and hilarious, she’s not a dog.
14. Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder
Watching my daughter clean the meat off a chicken wing is more breathtaking than looking down over the lip of the Grand Canyon.
15. It All Happens Too Fast
When you have your first kid, other parents keep telling you, “They grow up so fast. Enjoy it.” Yeah yeah yeah, you think. That’s the fifth time I’ve heard that this week. And then your daughter starts walking and talking and finding the cure for cancer and all of sudden you’re wondering, where did that come from? And why didn’t somebody tell me this was going to happen? Your rapidly maturing child, meanwhile, is already on to the next thing, wide eyed and gorgeous just like she was in that hospital room, the very first time you held her in your trembling arms.
Jason Basa Nemec’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry has appeared in Gulf Coast, Kenyon Review Online, Slice, and numerous other magazines. He lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter.