Tomorrow morning, Saturday July 1st, I’ll wake up early, like I always do. I’ll get online for my blog fix, then go outside and water the plants and watch the birds for a while. Do a little writing if I’m a good boy. Around 10:00am I’ll go take a shower and shave. Put on a clean, ironed shirt. Now, while I have been known on occasion to shower on a Saturday, the shave and the ironed shirt are something of an anomaly.
But tomorrow’s special (and not just because it’s Canada Day, Sandra ;D ). After I’m all dressed and ready my wife and I will head out to meet my daughter for brunch, at which she plans to order a Bloody Mary. She’s hoping to hell that they’ll card her. If they don’t, I’m poised to remind them.
21 years ago tomorrow, a delightful young lady by the name of Jessica came onto the world stage. Technically, she was a wrinkled little bean. But don’t try to tell me that. (Them’s fightin’ words, why you, why I oughta.) It is a simple statement of fact when I say she was the most beautiful baby in the history of the universe. When I held her, just a few minutes after she was born, she looked up at me, and I could also tell she was the most intelligent baby in the history of the universe. (This is not a point open for debate.) If you could only see those eyes as I saw them. Bright as the sun and deep as the stars. She was thinking about very important stuff, let me tell you.
21 years ago, I also happened to be working on my third novel. By third novel, I mean, “third” novel. The second one I never quite finished and the first one had been, um, well,…Moby Dick in Space (working title). Both are now relegated to well-hidden lockboxes. When Jessica arrived, her mother and I decided I would be a stay-at-home dad. We figured I’d be able to keep writing while also handling the care and feeding of a certain utterly perfect wrinkled bean. That third novel, I knew, was going to be The One, if only I could keep up the momentum and get it done. The way I saw it, sure, infants need a lot of attention and they wake up a lot at night, but they also take lots of naps. I could keep the house with her in one of those slings around my neck or in the bouncy chair, hit the typewriter while she cranked out the ZZZs. It seemed like a good arrangement.
And it was. I don’t know how many fathers get the opportunity I had. During Jessica’s first year I got to see it all. Her first smile, the first time she lifted her head, her first projectile vomit. I’m the one who dropped her the first time (she lived). I figured out that when she was really upset, beyond consoling, simply standing with her in a warm shower would calm her. This is not to say her mother wasn’t there too, and a lot. But she worked and kept us in vittles, and that meant she missed things a lot of the little things I got to be a part of that first year.
As it happened, I didn’t get much writing done. Some, but not nearly as much as I’d thought I would. You’re probably shocked to hear that. I found myself dozing when Jessica napped, or folding diapers, running the vacuum, cooking dinner. When she was awake, we had colors and shapes to look at, or bellies that needed a raspberry. These things take time. I was a comfortable little hausfrau, hanging with my baby, doing the chores. I wrote when I could steal a moment, which wasn’t often. Babies, it turns out, are demanding critters. But, omigod, so adorable.
My third novel did eventually get written. Very. Very. Slowly. In addition to the Perfect Child, other things came along. Jobs. Big moves. Another perfect child, Justin (now 11). I kept writing because it’s what I always wanted to do, but my pace was glacial. I finished the final draft about the time Jessica turned eight or nine. It turned out to not be The One (trust me when I say you’re grateful it suffered the same fate as Moby Dick in Space and Nameless Number Two). I just keep writing, stories and poems and eventually another novel, the one that would actually become The One.
Some writers may have finished their novel during that First Year With Baby, typing with one hand while diapering with the other. My focus was a little different, and I wrote when I could. There were times when I wished I could have written more, when I bemoaned the distractions of living that kept me away from the typewriter and, later, the computer. But the time I gave to my little bean that first year is something I’ve never regretted, nor a single moment of the time I’ve given her since. She’s my beautiful little girl, now almost six feet tall, smart and stately and ready to pass that final milestone our society has established between childhood and adulthood. I couldn’t be more proud.
In the Killer Year of 2007, fifteen members of the Class will see debut novels published. We’ve all followed different paths to get to this point, paths that highlight our uniqueness but also what we share in common — we’re writers who’ve persevered and arrived at this exciting milestone. For me, it’s twenty-one years or so after I’d once thought it might happen. But, oh, what a gift those years have been.
Wherever you are in your life, what gifts do you cherish?
Happy Birthday, Jessica!
And don’t forget, come back tomorrow to see members of the Killer Year Class of 2007 blog “Live From ThrillerFest!”
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