When I started college, my world shifted. The beliefs (spiritual, moral and political) that I had been raised with – that I had been taught or at least had always assumed were the only way to live correctly, fell away. Like my very own Copernican revolution, those things that I thought had been the center of the universe turned out to be breathtakingly unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
A few years later, my world shifted again. For years I had convinced myself that I didn’t want kids, that I would never have passion or true love in my life. Like a record scratch, all that abruptly changed when I met and then fell in love with my wife – a woman with four daughters. I instantly found all those things I thought I’d never have, things I thought I didn’t deserve and even things I never knew I wanted.
Six months ago, my world was shifted off its axis yet again.
In the very early morning hours of September 29th, 2010, after a day and a half of labor and nearly ten months of anxiety, fear and excitement, Valkyrie Vega Fletcher was born.
She was born a day before her due date, 9 lbs. 4 oz – fairly huge for something fresh from the womb (and thank goodness for that because even at that size she seemed small enough to accidentally crush). For her first 24 hours of life she didn’t cry. She made enough noise at birth to let us know she was alive, but for her first day all she did was make little monkey sounds. Almost to the minute, 24 hours after her birth, she found her ability to cry. And she kept at it for the better part of three months. Unless she was asleep or nursing, she was crying.
There’s something oddly reassuring in hearing her cry, though. Especially in those early days when there’s still lingering fears that at any second she could just stop. Stop crying, stop breathing just altogether stop. When she would fall asleep, I’d sit there watching her breath. Or when she’d fall asleep in my arms I’d silence my own breathing so I could hear hers, or gently place my hand on her back to feel its tiny rise and fall. Six months in and I still do.
I’ve had a couple years of experience parenting now. I’m still very much learning how to be a dad to our now 14, 11, 9 and 6 year old daughters. But a brand new baby is something else. Valkyrie’s first dirty diaper was the first diaper I’d ever changed. She was the first new born I’d ever held. And each time she does something for the first time it’s as new to me as it is to her.
I had no idea there would be so many new things so quickly. She’s gone from puking on things to puking at them, she’s advanced from simply waving her arms wildly to waving her arms wildly in the direction of something that interests her to, just recently, moving with what can only be described as intention. She smiles and even laughs now at things that actually make her happy, rather than just gas. She grows out of her clothes so quickly that it’s almost impossible to keep up. In the last month she started having solid foods.
She keeps finding new sounds to make, new ways of expressing herself. I feel like an anthropologist getting to watch the creation of a new language. First, it was just random monkey sounds, then she moved to grunts and growls and just the other day she started forming ‘b’ sounds. Now she won’t stop saying “bah bah bah” in a way that sounds eerily similar to the name “Bob Loblaw.”
I love just watching her learn, studying her as she studies herself and the world around her. She’s making connections, recognizing patterns, she’s even developing a personality. I love studying her almost as much as I love being her father.
And yet, with each new development my heart breaks. I love seeing her advancing, being there for her first taste of solid food, her first laugh, her first bath . . . these are things that I’ll never forget and I am so glad to have been a part of. But still . . . with every new thing she does, that little wiggly 9 lbs. 4 oz baby gets further away. That little creature that came into my life in the middle of the night is slipping away more and more every day and this new, beautiful, delightful little person is taking her place. I both dread the marks on the tabula raza of her mind and look forward to the image that slowly develops on that slate. I will always love the person she is becoming and always miss the person she used to be. And somewhere in the middle is the person that she is, and I love her most of all.
I never thought I’d feel like this. I never imagined what it would be like to know that I’m the only father she’ll ever have. The pressure is enormous and there are days, honestly, when I don’t think I’m up to the challenge. This is the most important, most difficult, most expensive and most terrifying thing I will ever do. And I am so grateful every day to both my wife Kris and to our daughter Valkyrie for giving me the opportunity to do it.