A Year And A Day
366 days ago I was at the OSU maternity ward experiencing the birth of my daughter. It had been two decades since I had previously been in a maternity ward, and then I wasn’t in the actual delivery room but rather waiting outside. In retrospect, I think I would have benefited greatly from witnessing the birth of my son.
The birth of Josephine was an extraordinary experience, and while I can’t say that I remember it as though it were yesterday, I do have clear memories of specific moments, and I feel touches of the overriding feelings of joy and the sense of promise that then overwhelmed me when I look at my daughter today.
The rate of change at which a baby develops is truly remarkable, as is the corresponding rate of change I’ve noticed within myself. I’ve been a step-parent twice now, and while I think I’d done a fair job both times, I knew there was something fundamental that I was lacking. Prior to Josie’s birth, I had a hard time truly articulating what that was.
A baby changes its parents in subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways. The helpless little newborn requires almost constant attention – attention I was only too happy to provide! – and relies entirely on the adults in its life for safety and sustenance. It does little good to become exasperated or short-tempered at the baby’s neediness, though to be honest I did become both at times. I honestly don’t know how any single parents manage. The little milestones – lifting the neck, rolling over, sitting up, smiling – are huge rewards for that attention, though, and slowly the commitment of attention transitions from unending requirement to a natural state of care.
As the baby becomes mobile, a whole new level of attentiveness is required, one that is much more active. Reaction times suddenly become important. Despite our efforts to baby-proof the house, Josephine still manages to find an awful lot of stuff that we’d rather she not touch. Again, getting exasperated or short-tempered does no good.
The first time I was a step-parent I got exasperated and short-tempered a lot. This was my greatest failing to my then-step-kids, I think, because I had unrealistic expectations about them, born from not going through the slow, natural transition from “not parent” into “parent” with all the challenges and rewards that brings. Instead, I went from “not parent” to “parent” almost overnight, without establishing the depth of relationship between parent and child that comes from raising a newborn. Long before I was a step-parent, my step-kids were well developed human beings, with strong personalities that I did not intuitively know as well as their biological mother did. Likewise, I had not had the transition from state of “committed attention” to “natural care” as I’ve begun to experience with Josephine. This was a cause of much friction between all of us, and I realize now, with great shame, how much of that friction was caused by me.
I’m grateful, though, for the experiences I’ve had being a step-parent. It’s given me a glimpse of some of the things to expect with Josephine, and while I know she’ll be sufficiently her own person that I won’t get any “do overs”, I’ll at least be conceptually prepared for some of her challenges in youth and adolescence. Similarly, being a step-parent to older children has helped me be better aware of, and embrace, the slow changes taking place within me as I grow into the role of “dad”, as opposed to “biological father” or “step-dad”.
I can only imagine what the next year has in store, and the years beyond. I am very much looking forward to it.