Tomorrow, May 2nd, is Zephyr Kay’s first birthday.
For twelve long months, Mistress Kay and I have kept the tiny parasite shown above alive, sacrificing our life force to the vampiric entity that is our daughter. You think I jest? You assume I express hyperbole? Look at these following photos. The first reveals a vibrant, strapping 36-year-old Max just before the birth of his child (and definitely not a grainy old picture from high school):
The second – poor Max after a mere six months of parenthood:
And then there’s today. A now 37-year-old Max after a full year of fatherhood:
A dapper dresser, for sure, but horrifying all the same, I know. And yet, somehow, it’s all been worth it.
Don’t get me wrong, all my clearly and repetitively expressed fears about parenthood were 100% founded and in no way exaggerated. Even so, I still wouldn’t trade our littlest lady for the world.
It helps that she came out cute. It’s way easier to love a cute baby. If she was an ugly duckling I’d know too. I wouldn’t be able to lie to myself. I’m just too honest. I don’t know what genetic lottery she won, but it was a good one because she definitely takes after Mistress Kay in appearance and not her hairy beak-nosed ogre of a father.
It also helps that she has been an absolute joy. She sleeps through the night, she’s happy and cheerful, and she lights up our lives with her little goblin cackles (her laughs are…not cute). I’m fairly certain our little big girl took one look at Mistress Kay and I right when she was born and realized she’d better get her act together quick if she didn’t want to be called out by name in a joint suicide note, so gratitude to her really. Her parents are… fragile at best.
The first year of parenthood has been a journey. Zephyr is our first child, and since we are neither young parents nor rich parents, she is likely our last as well. Going into this whole adventure we had no real idea of what to expect. Our prior experience with children had been limited to seeing our friends’ babies for an hour or two once or twice a year, and that does not prepare you at all for the reality of the situation. When babies are first born, they are weird little homunculi that do little except eat, sleep, poop, and cry. The first few months of Zeph’s life were harder than a middle-aged white guy with a fist full of Viagra and a business class plane ticket to Bangkok, Thailand.
Every day has gotten easier. Not noticeably, not while we were in the trenches surviving off of 20-minute cat naps and cold cereal, but in subtle, seemingly inconsequential ways. Partly, it was because we’ve gotten better at being parents. When you’re doing everything for the first time, even simple activities take an inordinate amount of mental effort, but once those tasks became repetitive and well-practiced, we have found ourselves slowly coming back to…ourselves. For brief moments, in tiny ways, we are now able to seize some agency and expend some carefully hoarded energy thinking about our own interests. Let me tell you, these little moments of self-care have been essential to our well-being individually and together as a family.
On top of that, every day Zephyr grows up just a little bit more.
At one year old, she’s obviously still a tiny little baby lady, but the amount of growth we have been able to witness over the past 365 days has been simply astonishing. She has a personality now. A fun one. She plays with toys. She is taking her first shaky little steps. Saying her first garbled little words. Snuggling excitedly with mommy. Laughing every time she sees daddy, which okay, might be insulting because I get the feeling she’s laughing at me not with me, but I like her laugh so much that I don’t care.
I love her more than anybody else in the world. She completes our family, and I could not even imagine life without her. I miss her terribly when I am away from her and feel such joy when we are reunited.
Lord help me, it is such a relief to drop her off at daycare in the morning on workdays. Sometimes I giggle the entire drive to work because I feel so carefree and unburdened knowing that she is somebody else’s problem for a few hours.
Zephyr has been in daycare for the past few months, partially because being able to temporarily escape from the constant stress of being responsible for a tiny frail human being with the self-preservation instincts of a suicidal lemming is so, so tasty, but mostly because I’m a failure as a provider and we can’t survive on my income alone, so Mistress Kay has to work as well. Here’s a fun thing about daycare. I can’t remember the last time the entire household wasn’t sick. It has been a revolving door of sniffles, coughs, gunks, and goops since she started going to that petri dish of a child prison. But hey, at least it costs over $100 a DAY. And at least we don’t get our money back if she has to stay home sick. Which she has to do constantly. So that has been both fun and financially devastating.
You know how when the black plague was devastating Europe and entire villages were getting wiped out, there were multiple accounts of deathly ill people suddenly feeling much better for a day or two and thinking they were miraculously cured, only to die shortly thereafter? Basically, what was happening was their immune systems were being overwhelmed and failing completely, giving them a couple days of fever free comfort as their body stopped fighting the disease and instead allowed it to spread unchecked until all their organs shut down and they died in agony. Well anyway, I want that. Not the black plague specifically. I just want a day or two of feeling healthy again, even if it means my immune system has collapsed and the CDC will have to napalm my corpse to prevent another global pandemic.
I’m so very tired.
Recently Mistress Kay had to travel a bit for work, on top of which she has been working overtime with increased responsibilities due to a leadership development program she was selected for. Luckily, during this timeframe I was able to take a brief parental-bonding leave from my job (in addition to the month I had off right when Zephyr was born) because both my employer and the state I reside in are very nearly civilized. Compared to the rest of the USA at least. We still have nothing on those rich European countries.
Anyway, after the past three weeks of parental leave during which I had to shoulder the lion’s share of childcare for a sick baby while Mistress Kay was busy with her work duties, I have a few takeaways.
Takeaway 1 – Unassisted childrearing is brutal. I don’t know how women (traditionally) have done it for centuries and millennia. If I have to spend even a single second more in this prison, I will blow up the sun and doom our planet to a billion years of frozen darkness.
Our fathers and grandfathers saw how hard childcare was, looked at their beloved wives who clearly needed help and selfishly went – no thanks, we’re good.
I envy them.
Fathers used to be figures of terrifying intimidation. Once upon a time, not so long ago, the heavy tread of a father’s boots through the house heralded a storm of violence and ruthless aggression from which all other family members could only cower in fear. Their words were law and their capricious whims kept their wives and children walking on eggshells doing everything in their power to avoid drawing the ire of these vengeful household gods. Fathers were stern, aloof providers and disciplinarians, and that was it. They had no need to connect emotionally with the strange creatures residing within the walls of their home.
Now I’m expected to treat my wife and child like actual people, and be a friend, provider, nanny, housekeeper, landscaper, private shopper, limo driver, checkbook, and sexual dynamo all at once. It’s enough to make a man want to, you guessed it, blow up the sun, and it is not lost on me that what I’m experiencing is simply the normal responsibilities that have been handled by women for all of time.
Takeaway 2 – Mistress Kay is an incredible mom. When she’s not working, she is 100% there for our daughter. She is present and engaged, patient and nurturing. Frankly, I don’t know how she does it. If I have to stack up and knock over one more pile of colorful blocks after already doing that exact same activity 30,000 times in the last 72 hours, the sun, well, it’s not not getting blown up. I am so very lucky to have Mistress as a partner and Zephyr is lucky to have her as a parent. Having her unavailable over the past few weeks and having to do all of the things she normally does with grace and good humor was truly eye-opening. And sure, maybe some of my discomfort stems from the fact that she is being fast-tracked into leadership at work and her organization is shoving opportunities down her throat like she’s Joey Chestnut and it’s the 4th of July Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Contest, whereas my work has made it abundantly clear that my presence is only grudgingly tolerated rather than appreciated or desired, so I’m feeling a little emasculated, but it’s mostly that I selfishly worry that as her career grows and she focuses even more time and energy on work, my childcare responsibilities at home will increase. I don’t want to be solely responsible for the health and happiness of a growing child. I just want to do hoodrat things with my hoodrat friends.
Because that’s the biggest takeaway I have so far from parenthood. I’m not suddenly a smarter, more mature, better person with all the answers. I’m still the same slightly selfish, mistake prone, dumb idiot I’ve always been. Except now, an entire human child is relying on me to set a good example, and to get things right, and to keep her safe, happy, and healthy as she grows into an independent woman of her own. It’s going to be hard as hell. Probably the hardest, most important thing I ever do.
She’s worth it.
Happy 1st Birthday Zephyr Kay. Daddy loves you so very much.