To Annie, on her birthday
by Mr. Sheehy
My little Annie:
Today is your birthday and of course I’m the one who feels old, sort of – I don’t really feel old and I think that might be the weird part about ‘feeling old.’ I feel the same as I ever have, but now instead of being 23 and trying to find a decent job I have a decent job and two children. Your mom pointed out how odd this is the other day after putting you down for a nap. You had been sitting in the entryway playing with a shoe, happily oblivious to anything else; then she picked you up, fed you, and put you down for a nap. Sitting down with me afterwards, she remarked, “Isn’t it weird that we have this little person for whom we’re responsible – who is completely dependent on us for her survival?” Yes, it is. And somehow we have helped a second child reach her first birthday.
Being your first birthday, the temptation for me as a parent is to center my thinking upon your future – to consider what you’ve become like and grown into this past year and to predict what will develop as that process continues. As fun as that is, I am trying to restrain myself, because who you are now is enough fun to dwell on. In school today I showed my classes a video of your exercise routine – where you pull yourself up to stand by the sofa and then let go, hammering down on your bottom with a grunt, pausing for a breath, and then reaching back for another pull up. Though the video lasts only 40 seconds, you do the routine for 10 minutes. Maybe this is a consequence of your watching Mommy exercise. Either way, my students loved it and getting to know you helps them get to know me, so I show as much as I can before such sharing horrifies you and betrays some sort of sacred father-daughter trust that I’ll learn about when you hit adolescence.
Though that adolescence is far away for now, you have already established a bit of an independent side. For walks, we try to make you wear a hat, but you’ve realized you have the power to tear it off and you now exercise that power almost every time we go outside. One might think you do this because you hate the hat, and while that might be true, it seems also that you would like to put it on yourself. Shortly after tearing it off, you grin and slide it over your forehead, often sticking it successfully on top of your head, though usually folded or upside down. This morning you grabbed a washcloth off the bathroom floor and did the same thing, as tickled by your performance as your mother and I were. The do-it-yourself strategy applies to eating too, where you love to grab and eat your food on your own, grabbing turkey, cheese, and bread with the little forceps that are your index finger and thumb. At times when we feed you, you seem to want to rip the spoon from our hands and do it yourself – an adventure we’re not ready to try yet.
But whatever your independence or your mood regarding eating, you always settle into a silent awe when Ellen feeds you. We dreaded letting Ellen do this, but she begged so frequently that we gave in and let her feed you something innocent and clean, like applesauce. You sat so still and watched her as she moved so carefully, that we thought we’d discovered the new system for dinner. I can’t understate how much you two enjoy each other. I know I’ve said this before, but I’ve never made anyone laugh as much as you laugh at Ellen. When she gets out of her high chair at dinner, you thrash your whole body back in your seat, anticipating that she will “come ‘round the mountain” and run around the table, screaming in your face when she reaches your chair. Emphasizing Ellen’s magic is not to say you and I don’t have our moments together – I can usually get you going with some hide and seek, hiding behind my hands and yelling when I jerk them away; but if Ellen joins the game I’m usually outshone.
Perhaps the greatest development for me as your dad occurred this winter. You got sick with a cold or something (we all had it at some point) and it wiped you out so much that you became cuddly. For the first time, you began to put your head on our shoulders when we’d hold you, and though we felt bad for your being sick, we celebrated each tender hug. To our pleasure, you retained the habit after your health returned, and now when we wake you up you give us a good 10-15 minutes of head-on-our-shoulder hugging before wanting to explore the world. My bonus is that you still don’t fall back to sleep well (okay, that’s not the bonus, but keep reading), which means we often have to help you fall back to sleep. Your mother doesn’t fall back to sleep well either, so I take this little duty. I pick you up, your head pulls to my shoulder like I’ve got a magnet for a collarbone, and I walk around for about two minutes. That’s a nice two minutes, let me assure you. When I’m satisfied that you’re settled a bit, I lie down on the sofa or the big chair and rest my head on the pillow. I soak in the peace of the moment for a few seconds . . . and usually wake up 40 minutes later.
This is why I do this instead of your mother. I put you back to bed and probably lose 10 minutes of sleep through the deal. Even with me getting up, your mother probably loses a minimum of 30 minutes. Maybe you’ve got some dormant getting back to sleep genes in you somewhere that will reveal themselves during this, your second year. For your sake and your mother’s, I hope so. If not, I’ll accept my duty – to get up and receive some of the nicest hugs a dad could want. Actually, that’s how you welcomed your day today, somewhere around midnight. And though I didn’t say it then for fear of waking you, I’ll tell you now – Happy birthday, little Annie. I love you.