My brother John has a great photo from the birth of his first child. It’s a picture of his daughter’s unbelievably tiny baby-hand gripping his finger. His daughter’s whole hand, so perfectly formed and so amazingly small, can only just wrap around John’s bony knuckle. You just can’t conceive how they were ever that little.
John has the same photo for babies 3 and 4, but not for number 2. I told him how much I loved it, and how I wanted a photo like that when our first child was born.
“Take it right away,” John warned me. “They grow so fast, you won’t have long. We waited with Pete and missed our chance.”
Well, when Liz was born we didn’t take the photo right away. We were tired. It was busy in the hospital. There were phone calls to make (and I’ve got 7 siblings). We figured we’d take the photo later.
It turned out John was right. By the time we finally got around to attempting the photo, the moment was gone. She’d already outgrown that stunning new-baby tiny-ness.
I was reminded of Jesus’ words when He said: “‘The light will be among you only a little while. Walk while you have the light . . .’” Jn 12, 35.
It has already surprised my wife and I how, in just 10 months, we’ve seen so many stages come and go. There was the immobility stage, when you could count on finding Liz where you left her. That was nice. There was the sleeping phase, when she slept 20 hours out of every 24. That was nice, too. She used to curl up like a little peanut on Daddy’s chest and sleep while I rocked in the easy chair. My wife and I are always trading memories like that, saying, “Do you remember when Liz used to . . .” It seems every stage has already passed by the time we realize it was a stage. So many memories packed into 10 months, it feels like it’s been a lifetime.
I guess for Liz it has been. It’s just going so fast. The missed photo made us realize that. There is an old saying coined by Hodding Carter: “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots; the other, wings.” I don’t want to miss anymore photos, but even more than that, I don’t want to miss the chance to help Liz form strong, healthy roots. The photos are great, but as a father, the important work isn’t digitally documenting her different stages. The important work is nourishing that tender soul as she grows through these stages. And now is the time to do it. She’s growing right now. We can’t put it off, or, just like the picture, the moment will be lost.
When she’s older it will be time to work on the wings. But the roots come first. And she’s watching, listening, absorbing, all the time. Now is the time to teach some of the most important lessons. Right now she can feel love. Peace. Joy. All the things we most want for our kids can be learned right now, if we show them. She learns patience when we take the time to feed her, one little spoonful at a time (usually with about a 2/3 delivery success rate). She learns caring when she tugs on our pant leg and we stop what we’re doing to pick her up. She learns joy when we play with her. She learns peace when we do all these things with good cheer, not as a chore or a bother, but with a spirit of love.
The sun is shining, so we have to get on with our work while we can. It’s for our own good to teach her now anyway. Besides it being our duty as fathers, we really don’t want to put off these lessons until we’re trying to teach her to drive. That will have challenges enough of its own even if she gets strong roots now. The wings are always hard, but good roots can make that stage easier when its time comes.