She’s 7 Years Old

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.

She is seven years old.

20 Observations on Parenting

  1. You’ve reached peak parenting when you’re required to read to your daughter’s stuffed animals.
  2. My daughter keeps asking me to braid her hair and I never know what to do so it’s like hey here’s another ponytail
  3. Once I brought her a cheeseburger happy meal instead of the chicken nuggets she always gets. Frankly, I could’ve murdered Olaf and gotten less drama.
  4. Irony: Asking for a bite of something you paid for.
  5. I’m in awe of the way she treats her plush dolls. She thanked Sadness and Officer Hopps for being her bffs, then scolded Pooh for betraying her trust and if Pooh did it again he’d be exiled from the friendship guild. A child’s imagination is something you do not mess with.
  6. My daughter loves playing hide and seek at Target and never tell me that we’re playing hence why I bring the iPad into the store now
  7. Other times she likes to play hot lava and honestly how can I not?
  8. I mistakenly ate one of her lunchables and blamed it on Pooh
  9. I’ve made roughly a thousand promises assuring she’ll get ice cream after dinner. She hasn’t cashed in on them yet and I’m truly terrified of the day when she does.
  10. Parenting is just good negotiating.
  11. Once my daughter finished her homework before we even got home and I contemplated if she was truly my kid
  12. Then there are days when she refuses to do her homework and I’m like that’s my girl
  13. The thing about also being a Disney fan alongside my daughter is that we can never agree on what to watch like sure we can do Frozen but what about Moana
  14. I’ve never been angrier at her than when she caught a Pikachu before I did like this was from my generation wth
  15. Incredibly surreal to have my daughter in school. I’ve had to sign a few forms now and I catch myself faking my mom’s signature
  16. Whenever she falls asleep in the car I’m just like hell yeah it’s my turn at the Moana soundtrack
  17. Parenting is good distracting.
  18. Once at McDonald’s my daughter asked me why my meal doesn’t come with a toy like hers does. CARE TO EXPLAIN YOURSELF, RONALD???
  19. All this time I thought I was zoning out during Elena of Avalor but I realize I’m hooked like when are they gonna do another Sofia the First crossover because that last one was delightful
  20. Nowadays, when I say it’s nap time my daughter tells me, “We don’t nap anymore,” to which I say, “Well do.”

I love you, sweetie. Thank you for making these last six years the strangest and the most rewarding experiences of my life. Never grow up.

Letters to My Daughter – Part 3

Dear Shania,

It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these. I’ve been meaning to write to you. But as soon as I write down “Dear Shania,” that’s as far as I get. Not because I don’t have anything to say to you. Believe me, I have everything and more to say. But it’s everything, the memories and the regrets, that come to haunt me.

Today is so painfully, incredibly bittersweet. You are 4 years old now. Amazing how the years seem to pass by. Unfortunately, it also means another year and another birthday I’ve had to miss. When you’re older, I hope you’ll understand. Just a few months after you were born, I was at a crossroads: stay and take care of you, or leave for college and try to give you a better life, the life you deserve. Needless to say, I haven’t been happy with the decision I made at the airport that day. Ironic, isn’t it? Even as I’m here now in the throes of finals, that’s not even what’s keeping me up at night. No. It’s the overwhelming guilt that torments me in my sleep. I am no Peter Pan. Not a hero, let alone a father. I came here to give you a better life. But I didn’t realize it would mean leaving my place in yours.

The day you were born, I was afraid of the kind of parent I’d become. But now I have faced something far more terrifying: never having existed in your life. I’ve caught glimpses of it. I’m afraid that as you play with grandma and grandpa, you’ll ask about me, and, when they remind you why I’m gone, you’ll search the house for me anyway. Grandma tells me these things. How you climb the mountain of stairs to my room and knock on my door, asking if I’d like to build a snowman. I do, Shania. I really do. And it breaks my heart knowing that I can’t be there to tell you. Hearing such stories makes me truly wish I was Peter Pan, so that I could fly to your window and wake us both up from this nightmare.

I miss you so much. I may not say it to you every time we’re on the phone. I mean to. I just seem to forget once you begin your stories about your lovely adventures. How you and grandma went to the store and she allowed you to pick out your favorite candy, and later, how you went home and watched Frozen for the umpteenth time. Or about how grandpa was watering the front lawn and you asked to help and he let you take charge of the nozzle, spraying wildly and getting the two of you soaking wet. For those few minutes, I forget that there’s a body of ocean between us. Phone in hand, I feel as though I’m right there with you.

When I don’t have the luxury of talking to you, I listen to the countless voicemails you’ve left me. I never deleted a single one. I continue to keep and cherish them, even when my inbox advises me otherwise. I just listen. I hear you running away with grandma’s phone, her shrieking in the background asking who you’re calling. You tell her it’s me. “Dad?” you say over and over with such blind hope that I’ll answer. And it hurts because once again I’m not there to answer the door. At the same time, I’ve never been so happy to check my voicemail because by some miracle, you remember who I am. You never forgot about me, even when I’ve given you so many reasons why you should.

I’m graduating this week, and though I know you can’t make it, it doesn’t sadden me one bit. Because in a few months’ time, I’ll finally be coming home. I’ve just got a few more things to take care of on my own, the first being that I have to work my way back to you. I’m sure grandma and grandpa can attest to the sheer pile of debt that I’ve dug them both in. Five years ago, they made a deal with me. They’d help me with any major expense so long as I’m enrolled in school. Food, textbooks, a plane ticket home. This weekend being my commencement, that deal no longer applies, which means I have to earn my ticket home. It’s the final among the last few hurdles I’ll be facing. I never thought I’d see this day after so many months gone, so many tears shed. This is my odyssey.

When I’d come home over the summer, I’d often remind you that I’m nothing more than a friend. Your partner in crime. Because I can’t call myself a father to you after being there for only a few months out of the year. My parents have gladly taken over that mantle in my absence, and they are far better parents than I could ever be, for which I am eternally grateful. Despite all this, you still call me dad. I don’t know how or why, but you just seem to remember. You’ve never given up on me, not once, even when I gave up on myself. That alone is enough to guide me through this home stretch. It’s what I’ve been dreaming of ever since I got on that plane four years ago. It’s been a long, agonizing road, but I am almost there. Slowly but surely, I am making my way back to Neverland. I just have one more adventure to finish, and I promise it’ll make for one hell of story to tell.

I love you, Shania. Happy birthday.

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