Thursday, May 12, 2011

Daddy's Little Girl

Having gotten some of the bigger post-worthy subjects from the preceding month out of the way, and it being Thursday and all, it seems like as good a time as any to focus primarily on the reason for all those weeks of leave and absence in the first place: my newborn daughter.

She is an absolute delight, of course. Earlier I copped to my own predilection for projecting counterfactual states of mind onto her, but again, that’s something I’m bound to do not only because I’m an overthinker but because, as with all newborns, there’s honestly not that much of her there yet. Not that this stopped me from considering the past four weeks to be a meaningful getting-to-know-you period which I tried to take advantage of in every way, but of course many of those ways are fraught with their own pitfalls right out of the gate.

First there is the Pitfall of Comparison, which is the burden of every child who happens to not be the firstborn of any given union. The little lady bears a physical resemblance to her big brother at that age which is downright uncanny. So much so that the very moment she was born, my wife told everyone in the delivery room she looks just like him. So much so that I did a double-take yesterday because I thought somehow my wife had arranged photo birth announcements for our daughter, when in fact she had simply dug out the old ones printed for our son. So much so that I’m amazed we’ve only called the baby by her brother’s name a couple of times instead of near-constantly.

I don’t really think the little lady is suffering by comparison to the little guy, since we’re very enamored of both of them. We’re also not blind to the contrasts, and in some cases she becomes the beneficiary of enormous goodwill for the ways in which she differs from the elder child. She’s already a better sleeper than her brother was at one month old, both in terms of how long she can sleep and how well she can do so on her own without constant physical soothing. (This is one of those things where I imagine people who haven’t had kids might wonder what the big deal is while those who have simply nod appreciatively, so to all of you in the former category I simply assert that there’s no possible way to overemphasize the total quality-of-life impact that a newborn’s sleep habits have on the entire household.) Still, it’s hard to really determine how much of that is because she was born with a different temperament, and how much is a result of her taking some cues from all the lessons learned that my wife and I picked up the hard way the first time we brought a baby into our home. (Not that it matters, see above on relative importance. I will take this any dang way I can get it.)

Another, literally superficial, difference between the kids is that the little guy was always pretty fair-skinned while his sister is positively pink. Which quickly led to me referring to her as a little shrimp-purse, in no small part because shortly before she was born my wife and I had already started referring to her big brother as Dumpling. And of course I am irresistibly drawn to patterns and symmetry and serializing and so forth, but every once in a while it gives me pause. I’d like my daughter to have some things that are all her own, and not just sequels to things her brother got first. So I’m trying to stay mentally on top of that.

Oh yummy yummy bugs of the sea
Then (speaking of pinkness) there’s the Pitfall of Gender Roles, which is pretty self-explanatory I guess. I’m a card-carrying male, I’ve been raising a little boy for a couple years, and now I’m equally responsible for bringing up a girl in a world that doesn’t always make girls’ ways as easy as guys’. I’m honestly grateful that I have a good bit of time yet to sort a lot of things out myself before the little lady even notices any of it, because there seems to be an awful lot. The little lady’s birth (again, just like her brother’s) was medically induced and chemically accelerated and actually progressed in something of a controlled mad rush, evocative of expressions such as “like a freight train”. And as it happens, “freight train” rhymes pretty well with our daughter’s given name, a coincidence which could easily take root in the part of my mind where terms of endearment sprout up. I wouldn’t even think twice about it if the child in question were a boy; “Freight Train” makes a pretty cool sports nickname after all. But society certainly puts some negative pressure on the idea of associating anything feminine with anything massive or heavy, and I hope it goes without saying that I Do Not Want To Give My Daughter ISSUES, body-image or otherwise. So, no more references to freight trains, I reckon, but there begins the tip of the iceberg.

Let me just clarify that, as usual, I’m ruminating mostly on the oddities and sticking points of my mental meanderings because that’s what I generally find the most interesting to talk about (or feel the greatest urge to hash out and resolve somehow). But paternity leave, especially the parts devoted exclusively to the little lady, was far more bliss than doubt and worry. There’s just only so much that could possibly be gleaned from reflecting on how nothing beats the simple pleasure of holding a perfect little baby in your arms before I’d end up repeating myself. Feel free to write out “Everything is spectacularly awesome, but here’s a little something I can’t help chewing on …” on a strip of paper and tape it to the top of your monitor, to be referred to as the implied prologue to basically everything I say.

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