A Note for Future George
This post is written to myself, some years in the future.
George, I know you are going to forget a lot of this, so I am here to remind you while it is still in my head. You’re not a guy who takes a lot of pictures, and the pictures you do take you tend to let pile up in some folder on your computer until the computer goes kablooey and you lose so much stuff that you forget most of what it was that had been there in the first place. Marking the moments is not a skill of yours. You just enjoy each day– really and truly– and go on.
For that reason, I’m giving you a reminder of some of the stuff about your kids– things you might forget as the years go by and the routines of one age get retired and replaced by new ones. After all, pictures can’t really capture life like memories can. The trick is to preserve the memories as well as possible.
Tonight, the wife’s sis and husband came over with their 2 month old baby. Being around the little girl reminded me of how big Zane and Greer have gotten. Even now, I fool myself into thinking they are still little kids, but at nearly 8 years old, Zane is definitely a miniature man. Greer is still a little girl, but only for a very short time. As every parent knows, they grow so amazingly, inexplicably fast. I know it now, even while I am watching it happen. I am glad that I won’t first start saying that when it is too late to really soak it all in, when they are already big and grown, teenagers and young adults. Knowing it now helps me to do things like this.
When Zane was really, really little, like your niece’s age, he was a challenging baby. Jael just reminded me that her mom once called baby Zane a “mama killer”. Heh! You loved him intensely, though, and the times when he cried and cried were wonderfully offset by the times he played amazingly well all by himself, even as a baby. But the point of loving an infant is in the inconveniences, the long nights, the inconsolable crying, because when one selfish human (me) puts aside his convenience for the love and care of another selfish human (Zane, and later Greer), a bond is forged that is like the hardest, toughest steel. That’s love. Real love isn’t fluffy, pink and pretty. It is a prison cell that you happily lock yourself into, because it means always having this little person with you for whom you would do anything in the whole world.
But here’s the memory I want to remind you of:
Zane never liked to go to sleep by himself. He could entertain himself on the floor with his little play-set thing (you know the one, the colorful padded thing that looked like a mini-swingset with dangly plush things on it; you’d set it over him as he lay on his back on the floor in his feety pajamas), but when it was time to go into the crib he would cry and cry. He hated being alone (I guess) and he didn’t want to miss anything (I guess), but the upshot was that you and Jael were often stressed about bedtimes.
But you came up with a routine. You’d warm a bottle of Enfamil for him (30 seconds or so in the microwave), change his diaper and put him in his feetie pajamas, then let him suck his little sippy bottle while you read him a story. The story was usually a board book, one of those funny little books with opposite dinosaurs and hippo bellybuttons, etc. This would take place in the corner bedroom, what is currently Jael’s sewing room. You would sit on the end of the couch with Zane on your lap, leaning against you chest, going suck-suck-suck on the sippy cup clutched in both hands, and he’d study the pages as you read them. Sometimes he would take one hand from his bottle and point at something he liked, although he rarely stopped sucking.
“You like that little spiny dinosaur, huh?” you’d say. “He’s pretty funny, isn’t he?”
Sometimes Zane would turn the pages himself. Sometimes he would turn them the wrong way, silently implying that he wanted you to start over, or read a previous bit. And you usually did.
But here’s the best part.
You would put him in his wooden crib. Later, he would climb in himself, with you helping him a bit, but that was the only part of the routine that changed for quite some time. Once he was inside his crib, you would lean over the ledge and tickle him, rub his belly and chest, stroke his hair, and you would talk to him. He was barely verbal when this started, but he loved it. It was obvious. He relished these times. Together, we’d talk through the whole day.
It was a long routine. We talked through his getting up in the morning, and what he had for breakfast. We’d talk through what he did as you got ready for work. You were working from home at the time, so you were aware of most of it. You’d talk about any special trips or visits or playtimes that occurred that day. If Big Kate had come to say hello, or if Grandma and Grandpa had called, you would include all of those details. Eventually, you would be sitting on the floor in front of his crib, talking to him virtually nose to nose through the bars.
And he would listen raptly. He would snuggle up against the bars and watch you talk, settling down, unaware that sleep was stealing over him like a slow blanket.
Sometimes there was silliness during the routine. Like the way you would make the little Elmo doll bounce around on his bop, accompanied by fun little farty sounds. That always made Zane laugh endlessly. Sometimes we would do that before the routine officially started. Zane and you would crawl under the crib (him all the way, you just head and shoulders) and “drive” Elmo around on the floor under your little private roof. He loved those special times, and asked for them over and over. And you almost always agreed to it.
A few times, you “wrestled” with him on the couch, listening to his cackles as you pretended to be thrown around by him, the two of you thrashing all over on the couch, him in your arms.
And then there was the finger elephant. You would walk your hand along the edge of his crib as if it were an animal, the fifth finger swinging like a trunk. That was another thing Zane loved, especially when the finger elephant jumped off the ledge and landed on his chest or head.
There was also the “loveys”. Zane had a good bit of plush even then, mostly gifts from grandparents and friends. The purple turtle, “Tortu”, was his favorite. He never went to bed without both it and Duppy, his blanket. Sometimes, though, you would pull down another lovey and present it as “tonight’s special guest”. For a while, Zane asked each night who that night’s “special guest” would be.
And even now, Zane remembers “mouthy powder”, which no one who wasn’t there could possibly understand. Surely you remember that, even if you are reading this some years hence. The baby powder you would give voice to as you changed him before bed? It was always delightfully cranky, “mouthy”, but it always ended up doing its bound duty, at Zane’s amused and smiling behest.
The bedtime routine, starting when Zane got into his crib, easily lasted fifteen minutes to half an hour. When it was done, he was usually ready for sleep. He no longer cried each night when you left the room. He was content.
You figured out that routine, George. You loved him, and wanted it to be easier for him. Of course, that did make it a lot easier for you and Jael, too. But between you and me, that wasn’t your main motivation. The whole reason his bedtime crying was stressful was because you loved him so much that you hated to hear him upset. The bedtime routine fixed that.
Remember that. When Zane is even more grown up than he already is, remember that you created the bedtime routine that helped him to go to sleep each night content. I know you, because I am you. Even now, I wonder if I was a good enough dad. I berate myself about the times I got angry, or was selfish, or didn’t know what I was doing and distilled my helplessness into impatience. But I want you to remember the bedtime routine, and to take deserved solace. You really, really tried. And a lot of the time, you got it right.
When he was a toddler, interrupting you at your work by climbing up into your lap with one of his beloved board books, you hardly ever turned him down, even if you were in the middle of a deadline. When he fell down and bonked himself, he came to you just as often as he did his mama, offering you the hurt bit and instructing you to “kiss it, rub it…” Despite your nature, you sacrificed for him, and for Greer, too (who will surely be the subject of her own little reminder to future George sometime soon). A lot of the time, you exercised patience when you wanted to be impatient. You spent time with them when you longed to have time for yourself. You read to them, and brushed their teeth, and helped care for them when they were sick, and cooked them meals that were often their favorites.
You weren’t perfect, but Jael is right: you were a good papa.