Someday she will

Posted by jdg | Monday, June 04, 2007 |

There is a school that Juniper and I walk past almost every day. "Where are the big kids?" she asks every time. Sometimes we see them inside their classrooms, sometimes some of them even come to the window to see us, a tangle of smiles and waving hands pressed up against the glass. "Someday, Juney will go to school," she says. "Someday she will be a big kid." I nod.

"Someday," I say.

After we see our neighbor's new baby, she always asks me to hold her like I did when she was that little. I cradle and rock her against my chest, and she pretends to cry but bursts out in giggles instead. She tells me that she is not a baby. She is a big girl. She shows me this by riding her tricycle in the park: "Juney is a big girl now," she says, "She has her own bike." She puts her size-five shoes against the pedals and pushes so hard I can't believe the trike doesn't go flying out from under her from the force of her sheer determination. The trike doesn't move at all, of course, but then it does, and she screams with surprise and glee. She doesn't notice me bent down, my forefinger pushing ever so slightly on the seat behind her. All she sees is the sidewalk ahead.

"J-U-N-E-Y, that's Juney!" she shouts as her trike runs over the words we wrote the previous day in chalk on the sidewalk. "M-A-M-A, that's Mama!" and: "M-A-M-A, that's Dada!" Then we sit in the grass and she tells me about an owl named Luther who comes to her window at night.

"No Dada, I can do it all by myself," is her new refrain. She usually can't, but I like to let her think she can. We look at photo albums filled with pictures I took of her when she was first born. "What's Juney doing there?" she asks. I tell her she didn't do much then, not like she does now. Still, she asks me for stories about when she was a baby. I tell her about how much she cried, about how we would hold her and dance with her and bounce on the ball until she fell asleep so warm against us. I tell her that her first word was ball. I tell her she used to see the moon in the sky and call it ball. This fascinates her. "What's the moon's name?" she asks, and I tell her the moon's name is Luna. "What was my second word?" she asks, but I am so confused about where she learned to use the word second properly that I cannot remember that her second word was light. She still weighs less than 25 pounds; I still have never used a stroller with her. She still sits in the crook of my arm whenever we walk. I have never had biceps like this in my life. They make Wood purr. But that is just a fringe benefit. I walk with Juniper like that so we can talk.

When it's almost time for her to nap, we dance. First we dance to fast songs and she shakes her head side-to-side and runs wildly in place and in circles. Then we listen to soft songs and she puts her sweaty forehead against my shoulder, and laughs when I dip her. She pretends to read me books before I put her under the covers and sing to her. One of the best parts about staying home is there's no one around to make fun of how I dance and sing. I make up songs about Juney turning into an owl and flying away with the other owls but she looks down and sees her Mama and her Dada and she flies back down to stay with them a while longer but someday she will fly away. When she wakes up from her nap she wants to be held quietly for awhile.

My time home with Juniper recently eclipsed the amount of time Wood spent at home before we left San Francisco. For me there is no imminent move, no endgame, no job prospects or any real interest in returning to the world of work. Some days I might be out in the mid-morning sunshine, in some park or the zoo or maybe inside a museum if it's raining, and I think, Wow, this is my job. Juniper and I just spent two-and-a-half hours the other day building a sandcastle so big she could hide inside it, and the same thought occurred to me. I am so damn lucky.

Here I am, freshly-30-years old, a parent of a two-year old. I should be burdened by the heft of parental responsibility. I should be losing my hair and starting college-savings plans. I should be working hard in some office somewhere, not sitting around playing all day. That's not just my own father's voice talking, but some deeply-ingrained cultural imperative. Men work. They provide. They put meat on the table. They lose their hair from all the stress. Men have ambition. They seek power. They don't consider a 4-mile jog and an enormous sandcastle to be acceptable accomplishments for a weekday. Obviously, I've learned not to be seduced by this way of thinking. But the guilt that I feel for living like this does accomplish one thing: most of the time it prevents me from complaining. Some men don't just feel like they should be providing; they actually need to be. They have no alternative. That makes me feel very lucky, even when my greatest accomplishment on any given day is nothing more than successfully cleaning crayon off a wall. Even when my child is on her third temper tantrum of the morning I feel fortunate to get to do what I do. It is a privilege that I wish every dad in the world could have if he wants it.