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.
I had rather large breakfast this morning which in turn gave me a bit of a gut ache which in turn led to an examination of my stomach that further led to me poking around my belly button which reminded me of you. Well, more your future child than you. After birth, babies go through a rapid and diverse transformation from beautiful to gross, to beautiful to gross to beautiful (this repeats based on a myriad of factors and how often they throw-up, poop and pee all over you – more on that later). I would like to share with you one such transformation that is both incredible and pretty gross so that you go into things with wider eyes than I did.
Firstly, should the doctor and her team afford you the opportunity to cut the umbilical chord immediately after your child’s birth, jump on it. It is without a doubt one of the strangest and most memorable things you’ll ever do. My recollection of the event is a bit blurry as birth is a wonderfully chaotic and traumatic thing with lots of sweating, shouting, beeping noises and blood – and that was just me. I do recall looking down at my wife with complete amazement and admiration for what she’d just done, over at my new son covered in white paste and blood and rasping like an old man when one of the medical team thrust a pair of scissors in my hand and said, “Cut the chord dad!”. Imagine if you will, severing the life line that your wife grew, that kept your child alive in her stomach for 9 months, with a pair of scissors. You’ll never look at that tool the same way again. Take a moment to acknowledge the magnitude of what you’re doing then use all the bloody strength you posses because by this point you’ll be exhausted. Before you know it, the medical team will make a closer cut to your child’s belly and the chord will be clamped and covered with a bandaid. Here’s the next interesting bit.
For the next few weeks that remaining umbilical chord will get darker and harder until a crusty little chunk is left. If you’re the kind of person who likes to pick scabs this will be an incredible temptation for you. The contrast between the perfectly smooth and wonderfully soft baby skin and this crusty bit of stuff is too large to ignore. Hold tight man. Let nature do it’s thing. One day it will fall off. You might not even know when (as was our case which left me wondering for days if it had fallen into my bed, my food, my clothes…). Before long that reminder of the lifeline will be gone and it won’t’ be until you’ve had a big meal that forces you to poke at your gut that you’ll be reminded of the miracle that is this whole parenting thing.
I’ve included a drawing from the Art of Dad archives from 11 years ago that I hope you enjoy.
I guess I shouldn’t complain. A week and a bit into school and so far there are no complaints. When I see the kids and ask them how their day was, I’m hoping to hear about funny things that happened with friends, class updates, teacher stories, team goings-on. Pretty much every day the answer I get is “Fine”.
I suppose fine is a lot better than: “Awful”, or “I hated my day and I can’t wait for summer.” or “That was the worst day I’ve ever had in my entire life. It could be the worst day anyone has every had in the entire world.” Answers like these would lead to bigger conversations than I’m probably really ready for. I’ve had a busy day too and getting dinner prepped and after school activities in line is enough of a distraction.
I’m a parent.
So, I’m unrealistically looking for a glimpse, just a sliver of insight into how my kid’s day went so perhaps the answer they are giving me is just…
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.
Daniel Lewis is one of the co-founders of an outstanding online resource for dads and parenting, thedadwebsite.com. I was delighted when he contacted me about an interview on my life as a dad and an artist after coming across my work on this site.
Please check out our chat at the following link: TheArtofDadInterview and spend some time on Daniel’s site, it’s fantastic.