I want to tell you about two memories I have of you. One I treasure. The other is a cautionary tale.
We’ll start with the treasured bit, open this on a positive note.
Ice & fire
Almost a year ago, quite unexpectedly, I froze.
The icy blast was momentary and swift, that space between heartbeats. It was the first sight of you that brought it, appearing all at once and looking so small – God, nothing could be so small – and confused and vulnerable to everything.
My shell, my carbonite fortress, melted just as quickly. Your tiny lungs heaved, and some kind of battle cry launched out. The sound itself was an arsonist. It spit fire at my heart and set it ablaze. Then the ice melted, cascaded downward in a splash. To most, it would have looked like tears.
It’s been almost a year since that finger-snap battle of the elements raged; almost 365 days since my daughter appeared and froze me and set me on fire in the space of a breath.
I haven’t stopped thinking about this scene since last week. That was when you cracked your head between my eyes so hard I saw stars.
It was sudden and vengeful and brought on by rage, the seein’ red kind. Your mouth is getting more and more crowded with new teeth, and frankly, you hate it. I can’t fault you for it. Being stabbed in the gums 20 times in slow motion over the course of a few months is enough to rile anyone up.
Your mom and I were trying to calm you down, but you just had it. I had no chance. You squirmed and writhed and swung. Our foreheads met and bounced. Stars nova’d. The assault set you to crying and left me a mess of pain-stricken moans while my brain screamed for a damage assessment.
It was something you hadn’t done since you were a newborn, since you’d gotten control of your neck and stopped your head from occasional unprovoked attacks on mine.
But here we were again, kicking it old school; you, tired and hurting from teething, and me, trying to shake off the Ronda Rousey ka-pow you’d just landed on my face as I came to grips with the fact that an 11-month-old just beat me up.
It’s a study in contrasts, these two incidents: a joyous first meeting and a horrific medley of pain and confusion.
That will be the format for however long it is I have the pleasure of your company, I think, Bethany: chaos, beauty, chaos, beauty. It would be irresponsibly naive of me to think it’s going to be all puppies and rainbows, but it would be woefully glum of me to think it’s going to all head butts and crying.
It’s going to be both. All the time. Sometimes it’ll be hard to tell what’s what.
The intensity is going to build, too. I’ve known that. Family and friends whose kids are grown just keep affirming the inevitable with vague horoscope doom-and-gloom statements.
“Just wait,” they say after I tell them a more chaos-focused story about you. “Just wait.”
I get it, I do. Like any video game worth its salt, the challenges we will undoubtedly face will just get harder and harder. The bummer is that there’s no YouTube walkthrough or forum I can visit to get tips on a particular level that just stumps me.
For teething babies, see pg. 18. (Read also: “Choosing a helmet that’s right for you.”)
No such thing. I’ll just have to keep learning by doing, I suppose, figure out the angles without surefire absolute solutions from professionals. That’s daunting. There’s a comfort that comes with consumer warnings that say things like “may headbutt” or “will set your heart on fire and make it swell to its absolute limit.”
But Bethany, there’s also a kind of purity to not having any idea what you’re doing, to having God laugh at your plans.
It’s freeing in a way. You get blank pages in lieu of an instruction manual, ones you’re responsible for filling up. Those pages will be packed by the end, filled with eraser marks and crossed out words and ink smudges. A disorganized collection of notes and doodles that’s actually a story.
“All The Times I Wasn’t Ready”: The Ryan Pfeil Dadding Chronicles.
It’s far from over, but if I had to write a dedication right now, it would look something like this:
To my daughter, who prepared me to be unprepared.
Happy first birthday, Bethany. The word to describe how much I love you hasn’t been invented yet, probably never will be.