She’s one. It seems like yesterday when she was born. I still have no idea how to hold her or how to get her to stop crying. There’s the milk, the baby mobile, the walker – things she can’t reach for, turn on, or climb into without some help. I can relate. This is all new to me. I don’t know how to father, parent, be responsible. She points at what she wants, moment to moment. She leads, I follow. Here’s the bottle. The mobile. Okay, now the walker, then the rocking of side to side that somehow does the trick. The bottle again, really? I’m getting up faster than I can sit down. Some moments are quicker than others.
She’s two years old and running around. She loves running around. When did she learn how to do this? I can’t get her to stop. I miss being able to hold her. I miss sitting down. I miss a lot of things. She pauses by the stairs as if she’s getting ready to climb Mt. Everest. She begins, clutching each step, slowly hurling herself up each hill. Exhausted (or is that excitement), she moves onto the next one. I’m trailing behind, close as a shadow, arms out and watching intently as she goes. She keeps swatting away my attempts to help her. For some reason I think of the saying: “Behind every kid is an anxious parent.” No way that that’s true. Stop, I tell her. That’s the last one, please come down. Please. She keeps on going.
She’s three years old. She plants herself in front of the TV, in front of the Disney princesses and talking animals that she’s seen a hundred times, onto a hundred and one. I can’t get her to move. It was all she could do before. Time comes in waves, cresting one moment, flat in another. That’s enough, I tell her. You’ll fry your brain. “No,” she says. Oh no. This is the start of her rebellion. Soon she’ll be wearing anti-establishment shirts and have temporary tattoos running down her arm. I stand between her and the TV. She gets up, finally, trying to push me out of the way. I won’t budge or at least I think I won’t budge when I look at the screen, at Mulan staring at her reflection, Rapunzel saying she’s got a dream, Elsa having a moment in the snow. Her voice, too, chimes in, singing along. It’s her favorite part. I step aside. It’s my favorite part too.
She’s four years old. I’m sitting in her pretend restaurant – the living room with teapots, cups, and plates strewn about. I’m thinking about the mess. She’s worrying about dinner. Technically, it’s lunch, but I’m not about to upset the chef. I go over the menu, written in crayon: noodles with red (spaghetti), cheese (meaning “burger”), or dog (as in “hot”). Don’t get me started on the prices. All of this seems familiar. Not the restaurant but the pretending. “What do you want?” she says. The service is very blunt here. “I want you to stop growing,” I say, and she stares at me. She wasn’t born yesterday, no matter how much it may seem like it. “Cheeseburger then,” I say, and I actually want one. She mulls it over, then, changing her mind completely, reaches for the teapot and says, “How about tea?” How can I say no to tea?
She’s five years old now. Five. Years. Old. It bears repeating because it doesn’t feel true. As if in order for something to be true I have to be ready to accept it first. Picking her up from school, it nonetheless occurs to me I’m getting older. I was just here, in kindergarten. I get a flash of my mother waiting outside my classroom, though I’m seeing it from her point of view. I think I see me at five-years-old but I realize it’s my daughter stepping out of the classroom and telling me she wants McDonald’s – the same thing I recall saying to my mom. Everything feels like now and yesterday, as if I’m not quite here but in between, experiencing two things at once. This quiet dance we keep doing, like we’re passing each other in time.
She’s six years old. We are at the beach and we gradually work our way towards the water. She lets go of my hand and takes off, abandoning with abandon, running to the other kids as they chase and retreat from the small cascade of waves brushing along the shore – one of my favorite things to do with her, now she wants to do without me. I realize this is how it’ll be. She’ll keep growing up while I will do the getting old-part and I will never be ready when it happens. That moments have come and gone and you don’t know they have until after. Moments I’ve dreaded and anticipated but feared I’ll never get the chance to see, except I was there for them. Miraculously, I was there. Like a shadow, her shadow, always.
She’s seven years old. I get her a Gameboy. Sorry, a Nintendo 2DS XL. They have sizes now. Didn’t I have a handheld Nintendo not so long ago?
She’s seven years old. Now she has one, like I did when I was seven years old.
She’s seven years old.
She’s seven years old.