A week ago I didn’t know you. You were a black-and-white sonogram and an occasional foot in my back while your mom and I slept. Now I can’t imagine you not being here.
In some ways you’ve lucked out. You’re our second child, which means we’re much calmer with you than we were with Eli. With Eli, we were afraid to take him out of the house in case a strong wind might blow him away and into the mouth of a passing dingo. But you? With you we don’t even bother sleeping in a chair in your room.
You being our second child also means you have an older brother. Let me apologize for that ahead of time. I was an older brother. I know how much we can suck. Eli’s already grown bored of you, since right now you’re a lump of baby and thus unable to appreciate his frogs and turtles, but eventually he’ll be jealous of how we let you do things at a much earlier age than he got to do them. You’ll fight about who gets to sit in the front seat after school and who gets the last piece of cake. Like Tommy Smothers, you two will say that mom always loved the other best.
I’ll tell you a secret: Mom and I don’t love either of you best. We love you different. You and Eli are different people, and our relationships with you will be as individual as you two are. There are some things that you’ll be better at than he is. There are some things at which he’ll be more skilled. In case Eli ever lords anything over you, just remember that you did a much better job of latching on right after you were born. Your brother was a lazy eater.
Your full name is Kathryn Elizabeth. We named you after both of your grandmothers, and called you Liza because we liked the name. Your mom was especially pleased that you can create so many nicknames from your names. Kat. Kate. Beth. Liz. Zabe. Your mom’s never had a nickname that’s stuck, a loss she feels keenly to this day. I got “Doc” as my nickname, probably because of my handlebar mustache and the times I rode with the Earps.
Your birth was a difficult one. Originally your mom was going to give birth without drugs, and when she had to get an epidural, I told her she was giving up a stockpile of guilt that could be doled out when you misbehaved. “I gave birth to you without drugs, in so much pain,” is one of the more potent weapons in a mom’s arsenal. Then she had to have an emergency caesarean section because your heart rate dropped alarmingly, and let me tell you, the fear and pain of that has given her the key to a National Strategic Guilt Reserve. I’m warning you now, don’t behave so badly that she dips into that reserve. The results won’t be pretty.
Through all of this, our friends and family have supported us. They have marveled at how healthy you are and what a happy baby you are. They’ve cried with us and supported us during your mom’s recovery period. Because so many of them are, like us, Baptist, they’ve been waiting for your grandparents to go home so they can visit bearing casseroles to feed us all. Friends can drive you crazy and family can annoy you, but they can provide strength when yours is used up. I hope you are as lucky with your friends and family as we have been.
Looking at you in your crib, I’ve been overwhelmed by my love for you. It helps balance the crazy times when you’re not really interested in sleeping even though your parents’ heads will burst into flames if we all don’t go to sleep right now. I watch the faces you make, the smiles and frowns, the bit where you suck your bottom lip in. I listen to your wheezes and snuffles and feel at home.
I doubt this will come as a surprise to you, but you’re a girl. And thank goodness — since I’ve forgotten how to put a washcloth over you when I’m changing your diaper, it’s good you only wet the changing table instead of spraying me in the face. But in a lot of ways your gender works against you, in ways too numerous to list here. And I hate that. I hated watching your mom deal with things at work that I wouldn’t have had to deal with by virtue of me being a guy. I hate that you may be discouraged from being physically active, or from being a physicist or liking math or getting into comics or liking football, just because you’re a girl.
So here’s my promise to you: We will not push you into “girl-appropriate” activities or behaviors just because they’re expected. We will not tell you that you can’t do something because of your gender. We will support you and love you. When we mess up, and we will, we will acknowledge it and apologize and figure out how to make things right.
Parents talk about what they want from their kids. It starts right after a baby’s conceived and doesn’t ever stop. When we told people we were pregnant, often they asked, “Do you want a boy or a girl?” We told them we wanted a healthy baby. Some parents know what they expect from their kids when they start school, or even what they want their kids to be when they grow up.
My wants are much less specific. I want you to be happy. I want you to learn who you are and be comfortable with yourself. I want you to experience life and find your own way in a world that can be confusing and painful and wonderful and breathtaking. I want you to have friends and family that support you and love you.
I want this letter to be written proof of that support and love.