There are a number of milestones as a new parent that will change your life – for the next few days until exhaustion renders you practically useless – that are worth reflecting on. Ask any parent for the exact day their child first walked or said their first word and I’ll bet they won’t remember. They will however remember the feeling associated with that moment. It’s pure joy, unlike anything you’ve experienced previously. Such was the case the first time my son smiled at me. While I don’t remember the date I do remember being in our living room, cradling him and just staring down at this incredible little person all wrapped up in his onesie. His wee chubby face went from a blank expression to this wonderfully robust smile. It started with his mouth as his lips curled up creating a bulge in the fatty mass of his cheeks squeezing his already shut eyes closer together. I was elated! I called out to my wife to share the good news. She was far more practical in her response. I learned right then, which I’ll share with you now, that babies have something called “REAL” smiles and “REFLEX” smiles.
Reflex smiles tend to be shorter and occur randomly, during sleep or fatigue. They’re similar to the jerky arm and leg movements your baby experiences as they test out their new equipment and tend to disappear around 2 months of age. Real smiles occur in response to something, your face or the sound of someone they love and you’ll see this emotion further expressed in their eyes.
As I look at the drawing I created when I first experienced this reflex vs. real scenario I’m momentarily transported back to those days when I could hold my son like a loaf of bread and pass the time just staring down at him. I encourage you in the early days of parenthood to put aside distracting bits of tech and do just that. Scoop your wee lad up, hold him close and sit down on the couch together staring into his perfect little face. If you do get a smile before the clinically proven emotionally specific time that confirms he loves you for you, enjoy it anyways.
My best mate is having his first child and as distance keeps us from getting together I thought I’d create a special section on The Art of Dad where I can post never before seen drawings from my first ever sketchbook when our son was born nearly 12 years ago. This section will be known as: Dear Ron. I hope you enjoy.
I saw your “Snoo” post on Instagram. It’s a lovely piece of furniture. May your boy sleep in it more soundly than ours did in the 4th generation basinet we had beside our bed. The accompanying illustration comes from The Art of Dad archives from nearly 12 years ago.
We all know the days are long and the years are short, but summer, it just seems to fly by every year. There is a palpable freedom that comes with the summer months, best appreciated during one’s school years. It’s an easy comparison: sitting a desk or riding your bike/going for a hike/eating ice cream in the middle of the day/going to camp/wondering what to do to fill a day… Summer comes and we all take a deep breath to relax and when we release fully September has hit us and the new year starts.
When the kids were young I used to lie awake at night wondering if they’d like their teacher, if their friends would stay their friends, what they’d learn to love, what they’d learn to move on from. Now, with high school a part of our lives and another in middle school I find myself writing this late at night before the first day of school wondering, will they like their teacher, will their friends stay their friends, what will they learn to love and what will they learn to move on from. I guess not much has changed but it feels like the effects of these questions becomes more intense as they get older.
Thanks for the great memories summer 2017. Let’s make some new great memories over the next school year.
Two weeks ago we dropped our kids off at camp, three provinces away, for a month long stay. Today I received a letter from our son and it instantly reminded me of the feelings I had when we said our final goodbyes before leaving him with his cabin mates. Like many boys, he finds being away from home challenging, especially in the evenings. He’s honest and open with his emotions in the lead-up to camp and at the actual drop off (when extra hugs are never ending). I tried to provide a sense of strength and positivity by acknowledging his fears and reminding him of the good times ahead but deep inside, I’m a super softie.
The other night, during the harvest moon, I slept outside with my son. We’d just watched Spiderman:Homecoming (awesome) and we had the kind of conversation that only seems possible on warm summer evenings. I luxuriated in the banter over which super hero we’d be, as ourselves, in their costumes and with their powers. It was thoughtful and carefully deliberated and after talking through all the Avengers, we settled on the hero we’d picked initially. We talked about other super cool stuff like flying cars, inventions that would make us rich and who we’d take to a dance if we absolutely had to or else we wouldn’t be allowed to create inventions that would make us rich…
It’s moments like these that need to be taken and remembered. It’s what keeps us young and connected to our kids who are growing faster than the weeds in the backyard where we pitched our tent.
Do you ever have those mornings, when your alarm goes off and you have the best of intentions to hit the gym or catch-up on emails before the steady thrum of activity that consumes you’re every being when the kids wake-up begins and-you-just-can’t-pull-yourself-out-of-the-comfy-confines-of-your-soft-warm-bed…
Look, I remember being a kid and feeling like the world was stacked against me in moments like this. It’s easy to deflect the hurt and pain onto someone else and the most obvious target is the one who is looking after you. They are listening already to your aches and pains so it’s only natural to be completely honest about how you want to feel better.
What this episode did reinforce is how much I appreciated my mom and dad doing this kind of thing for me. I’m not sure I ever thanked them enough so I’ll just bank this as a pay it forward kind of thing.