“In two days, EllieRoo will be 9 months old,” I say.
“10 months old,” Kate says, correcting me.
I look at my watch, then look to the ceiling, thinking. Damn shit she’s right. How the months have blurred blurred blooped into here we are and the almost 10mo baby is sitting on the bed between me and Kate.
But “10 months old” doesn’t describe what I feel looking at her fingers and feet and eyes. What I notice. Having watched her grow, day in and day out.
It’s 7:30AM and the baby is in a light blue diaper. Not the diaper she slept in. A new one. She’s shirtless and pantsless and she’s smiling and her hair is wild. This might be the first time her and Kate have woken up before me. I think it is. It’s Thursday and I cancelled my 8am class and I took the morning off from yoga, running, push ups, passive stretching, swimming, writing—anything at all that might pull me from the covers. It’s that point in the school year, in my life, in my week.
EllieRumpa is babbling— bleach blonde hair spilling into her eyes.
“10 months,” I repeat. I brush my hand across the baby’s face, kiss her on the cheek. Her skin is so soft. This is what people always say. Her skin is sooo soft.
Being a father for 10 months has made me soft like a banana. Last night on the front yard grass, cuddling the baby, I had the same irresistible urge to kiss the baby’s cheeks. I make a kissing sound. MAH! I kiss her face and rest my hand on her back and wipe her hair from her eyes and bop her bottom and kiss her again, and every 20 or 30 seconds the urge to kiss her re-emerges as she climbs around and on and under my knees. And I say ick as she puts a leaf in her mouth and chews and then chokes. And I swab the leaf out of her mouth with my finger and say idk and kiss her. And all this kissing is why I say being a father for 10 months has made me soft like a banana dumpster dived from Aldi. Soft meaning I pre-baby I wouldn’t think myself capable of cuddling a baby on the front yard and kiss kiss kissing her, like who is this gentle version of myself? But here I am. Every afternoon when Kate goes to soccer we go to the front yard, and she crawls and I stretch my legs, and she climbs on me while we’re stretching and the cars drive by and I hold her as she gets tired, and then she climbs closer and clings to my shirt and reaches for my glasses, and when it’s time for a nap she rubs her fists into her eyes just like she did nine months ago and eight months ago and seven months ago. The love and touch and cuddle and kiss and hug is soft like a banana.
I say she’s made me hard like a rock because I’m hyper controlling about familial relatives and the duration of their physical contact with the baby. I am—or at least I’ve been—a helicopter father. Touch for a little bit then move on. All the banana soft love has made me hard-edged and overprotective, like she might love them more than me, or that our lifetimes are so short I don’t want to share. EllieRumpa has grown so fast. Her hands have noticeably more dexterity. The twin towers of her front teeth are pulling down. I don’t know that I’ve grown up or out of this fear of losing Ellie and having to be anxious anxious anxious when grandma or grandpa or aunt or uncle comes round with arms outstretched cooing Ellie, Ellie, Ellie. Since we’re moving back to family filled Minnesota soon, I’ll find out. One month and counting.
I would non-qualitatively estimate that the degree and amount of my hardness mirrors and matches my softness. Equal amounts banana love and rock protectiveness. I met with a student today to discuss some writing. She said we can control how we respond to events, including traumatic events. We can respond—as we often do— with fear, or we consciously choose openness and vulnerability and banana smoothies.
As I follow Ellie’s eyes, it’s abundantly clear that she’s following me and Kate. What we say. What we do. She’s noticing, absorbing. How to open the refrigerator. How we talk to each other. How we kiss on the lips. How we unplug the laptop. How we fill the dog bowl with water. Mundane things, but everything day to day becomes mundane. Equally, she will (especially in the near future) begin picking up my energy toward extended family. So the question of what behavior I’m modeling for her becomes an issue, in addition to how I’m handling or coping with my own inner psychology, as well as managing key family relationships. These questions compound. Stack up on one another. Like a blackberry sitting on top of a spoon full of Fage yogurt. A lot to chew on.
As a matter of writing, the student and I discussed what we learn from trauma, or shitty events. How can we make sense of shit? Of hardness? Can we undo it? Can we say it’s for the best it? Not always. What we can do, though, is accept. And we can choose how to respond. This formula is annoyingly simple. But with my experiences in the last 10 months, the simplicity strikes me as spot on.
Lean into moments, Ry. Be soft like a banana. That’s what Ellie’s pre-lingual babbling seems to spell out. Ba ba ba ba.