It's not easy having a child, introducing another human being into my immediate life. Another person to think about it, to take care of, to feel joy over, to feel frustrated by, to spend time with. Because no matter which way you slice it, whether all you see is the joy or the first words or the future wedding, there is something to be said of the hardship.
What I expected from these early years were the long nights of frequent wake ups, of feeling tired most of the day, of the teething fussiness, the constant picking up. The problem is that I didn't get any of that. She wakes up at 10am every day and I can't remember the last time she woke up during her twelve-to-fourteen-hour nightly hibernation. She whines less than a few minutes of the day and is, for the most part, as happy as the day she learned the sign for milk, which sent her squeezing her hands together on repeat for a week.
What I didn't foresee was that my daughter, who stole my heart from the moment I saw the wet hair on her head, could so easily take away something that defined my life with Kari as much as anything else. Our ability to pack up and go, to hit the road or the air, has been slowly crushed and beaten out of us by Stella's hard headed refusal to stay calm in the car. It didn't take long to decide to travel out of state less, on account of her incessant need to whine and moan continuously when strapped down. Even traveling in state has become a tiring endeavor. By the time we reach our destination, even one hour away, our heads are spinning from her refusal to relax, a word that we have calmly and loudly and hopelessly tried to teach our little independent nineteen month old.
I didn't anticipate the emotional toll it would take of being a Father torn by the necessity of work and the desire to spend every last minute with her. Or the guilt that envelopes me every week that goes by when I can't go 50-50 with Kari in parenting duties, something I promised myself would be possible. I didn't think about the moments that come every few days when I realize that even though I've spent plenty of time with her, I haven't actually spent time with her. I haven't chased her around the dining room table or built skyscrapers out of blocks or looked into her eyes for minutes at a time or whispered in her ear that I'm so infinitely proud of every ounce of her.
I never knew that having a child would lead to missing my wife so much.
And I know this is j u s t the b e g i n n i n g.
A few months ago this night, September 27, 11:51am, was on the calendar. Pacific Crest Trail hike 2010, night one in the trees near Lake Arrowhead. I was going to be sleeping in my tiny tent, next to my hiking partner, sound asleep after a fifteen mile hike through the San Gabriels earlier in the day. Tomorrow would have brought twenty-five more miles North, twenty-five miles closer to my goal of making it all the way to Canada one day.
But tonight, September 27, I'm laying in bed alone, tapping my fingers on a backlit keyboard and listening to a certain National's song on repeat. Kari is throwing up every few hours in the living room, and Stella is fast asleep in her darkened room. I cleaned up vomit today, changed four diapers filled with poop, rubbed cream on Stella's rash and ran between living room and bedroom, keeping my eyes on the two people who matter more to me than everyone else in my life combined. Tomorrow I'll wake up and work for an hour before my girls get up and then I'll give a list of Stella's needs to a last minute morning babysitter and then I'll drive Kari to the Doctor for some fluids and to make sure our twelve week old is still in good shape.
And yet, even as the tears roll down and the cumulative parenting burden feels as heavy as it ever has, I absolutely can't wait to be with my family tomorrow. No matter how the day goes, no matter the complexities, no matter the unpredictability, no matter how this life unfolds, I can't wait to be with my family tomorrow. And that seems like enough.