To Elijah on His First Birthday

It’s actually a little past your first birthday, but it’s been a busy time here lately. Your birthday party was a lot of fun, with some twenty-five people in attendence. Four of them were even close to your age. Your grandparents visited over three weekends. You were surrounded by fans.

I’m amazed by all that’s happened in this last year. Let’s face it, when you were first born, you were mainly a device for turning milk into dirty diapers. Now you walk around, grabbing everything you can reach and can chew on. You have a personality and opinions—do you ever have opinions. The other day I held up two jars of baby food, one of fruit and the other of vegetables. You pointed to the fruit and pushed the vegetables away. I was so proud that you were coming into your own.

Then I was annoyed that you wouldn’t eat the vegetables.

Movement is a big thing for you. You were so annoyed that you couldn’t move under your own steam, especially when all the other babies in playgroup were zipping around you. As soon as you could sit up, you started doing butt circles, turning all the way around by pushing with your feet. You eventually started army crawling, then moved on to more traditional crawling. By eleven months you were tottering around on two feet, your fists clenched tight.

Nowadays you have a lot of fun when I pick you up and zoom you around, or toss you into the air, or flip you backwards and land you on your feet. Some day I will do this over and over and over and then you will throw up on me.

You’re the most social baby I’ve seen. Sometimes you are all grumpy and angry sitting around at home. The solution? Put you in the car and go somewhere where there are people! Parties are the best: an opportunity to be surrounded by fans? Sign you up!

There are numerous cute and strange things you do. You’re a tactile kid, and love nothing more than to be held. We’ll put you down in a restaurant and you’ll go to strangers, holding up your arms to them. Don’t you know that strangers are evil, and carry evil candy?

You do this thing with most any fabric where you fall upon it and hug it tight. Pillows, freshly-laundered towels, my sweaty racquetball clothes, it doesn’t matter. You see it, head for it, and flop face-first onto it. Then you roll around on it, feeling it against your skin. The best things are socks, since they’re small enough that you can lie on them, then stand up and carry them somewhere else to lie on them again.

It’s been two weeks of firsts. Your first birthday. Your first fever, which left you listless and wanting to be held. Your first bout of stomach flu, including some truly spectacular projectile vomiting. You would get this look on your face, as if to say, “Huh, that feels strange,” and then FWOOOM onto me, your mom, the carpet. We’ll be renting a carpet cleaner soon. Just so you know, its cost is coming out of your future allowance.

You’ve picked up a few words. Misty and I were surprised the day you picked up your sippy cup, slammed it on your high chair tray like a tiny Krushchev, and declared, “Cup.” Then you stopped saying the word for a while, just to torment us. You can also say “sock” (or its less-accepted variant, “dock,” assuming you’re not really referring to docks) and “duck,” for the little stuffed duck you carry around in your mouth, letting it dangle sadly from one wing. Other than that, double-tongued phrases are popular, leading to conversations like the following:

Me: Would you like a drink?

You: Leedleleedleleedleleedle leedle leedleloodleloodleladle ladleladleladle.

Me: Okay, I’m getting your cup.

You: Ladleladleladle ladleladle leedleleedleleedle LEEDLELEEDLELEEDLE!

Your communication skills are better all around. You can point at something that you want and reach for it, occasionally emphasizing this want with a grunt. You also point at things you want to see. You also point at things you should not have but really want to chew on anyway, like plants and power cords and doorknobs.

It turns out you like books. Thank goodness, since someone’s going to have to inherit the library your mom and I are amassing. We’ve had to switch to the Library of Congress catalog system just to keep track, it’s so big. Anyway, you love to get books and open them, staring at the words and pictures. Granted, you have a preference for looking at them upside down, but I’ll take a kid who likes books upside down to one who doesn’t like books at all.

Fatherhood isn’t exactly what I’d imagined. Really, I don’t know what I imagined, except that it involved me imparting the wisdom of the ages to you. So far I’ve taught you how to pretend to bite someone’s nose. You lean forward, mouth open, slowly headed for the target nose, while cutting your eyes to one side as if to say, “Don’t mind me, I’m not doing anything, and I’m certainly not trying to eat your nose.” Then you put your mouth gently on the person’s nose before letting go.

We’re going to have to break you of that, by the way. It’s really cute until you do it to some kid who decides to bite back. My one bit of teaching, so to speak, and I have to un-teach it.

Being a father hasn’t been all roses and fine chocolates. It’s also been sleepless nights, tearful decisions, annoyance at our inability to communicate. People say it’s hard, but they can’t tell you how hard, and how often you’ll look like a complete idiot. Ask me some time about one of the first times I changed your diaper while your mom and Mumsy were sleeping. Dear lord, the mess.

Parenting is the hardest thing I’ve done yet, and it’s a crapshoot whether I’m doing it right or not. Your mom and I are guessing at what to do, and sometimes the decisions we have to make are terrible. I’ve learned that crying will not kill you, even though it may kill me. I’ve learned to spend time with you, letting you play, joining in when you’ll let me. Really, for all my grand ideas of teaching, you’re the one teaching me.

It’s more than worth it. The joy of watching you become a person, with likes and dislikes, moods and thoughts, is overwhelming. You have already exceeded my wildest expectations about what you’d be like. And the look on your face when I come home from work, standing up, squealing “dadadada!” and tottering towards me, it breaks my heart. I will treasure the memories of these days, holding them warm to me when you’re fifteen and only communicating in brief grunts of “whatever” and “as if,” or whatever goofy slang you kids will come up with.

As I write this, I’m in the Atlanta airport on a trip. I don’t like traveling like this, leaving you and your mom behind. I’m thankful I don’t have to travel that much, and it only serves to make me enjoy the time with you more. The airport is filled with muzak to lull us and keep us docile. Imagine my surprise to hear “Ordinary World” played, a song I haven’t heard in about a year.

I didn’t cry, but it was a close thing. I guess a year of being a father hasn’t repaired my critical tastes yet.