After the delivery team left and I'd put the sheets on, I laid on her new big bed, staring up a the ceiling, watching the fan spin its slow, quite rotation as I reflected back on nearly three years of parenting - the coddling and the toddling, the beams and the screams, the hugs and the shrugs. It was nearly three years ago to the day that I struggled and cussed through assembling a crib, learning far too late in the process that a 2-inch screw won't do for a hole that needs a 2-and-a-quarter-inch screw and why they didn't put a big warning on the front of the manual alerting you to this reality is beyond me and I figured the percentage of dads who get to this stage not aware of this pitfall must be hovering near 95% and then I just took it all apart and started over.
The starting over - you don't get a shot at that when you parent. Do-overs don't exist. You get one shot in each situation. What quiets a crying baby on a full flight? How do you respond when your daughter doesn't want to get dressed? What do you say the first time she asks if you're mad? How do you describe the day she came home from the hospital? Walk slowly, friend. You get one stab at this, fumbling your way through persuasion and turns of phrase so a two-year-old mind can grasp that which a two-year-old mind needs to grasp.
I lay there on her double bed - the mattress, box springs, Hello Kitty sheets, big blanket - all of it serving as a wake-up call to let me know once again that this ride doesn't stop. In those early days when you wonder if you'll ever be able to use words - my chief asset as a writer and speaker - to assess why she's crying and upset, time moves slowly, mainly because you're sleepwalking through life, waking up when your daughter does, holding her and a bottle while you're half awake, lulled to sleep by sheer exhaustion and the rhythmic tune of a breast pump in the next room. When the bottle's empty, some nights you just stay there in the recliner, content to sleep anywhere because you're so tired but you also don't want to move because you're holding the only thing you've ever loved for no reason at all and you know deep down that this ride is going to speed up soon and being in your arms might be the last place that thing you love for no reason at all will want to be one day.
Three years goes by like a dream - the kind that's so vivid you can recount every detail at breakfast but you only remember the highlights by dinner. Luckily, unlike a dream, you have pictures and video and someone else who was there, too. You and your wife try to reconstruct infancy and crawling and toddlerhood, but at best this is a revisionist's rendering edited by time and love. Those baby cries get depth to them and become wails when she hits her head on the doorknob or can't have cake for breakfast. And that's when you wake up and find yourself reasoning with someone who's but 30 months as to why she needs to finish the banana by the time you throw away that toxic diaper and wash your hands so you two can watch Dinosaur Train. Again.
It's at that moment you really start to realize that this ride is a rocketship and it was all along. It wasn't slow in the early days after all. Those first four weeks turned to eight in a flash - they really did - and then she was six months old and you were at Disney World already and hey look - she's walking! - and now she's stringing a sentence together and then several and now she's requesting cupcakes for her second birthday and it's out with the crib and in with the mattress she'll have until she moves out.
I look up and see the fan continue to rotate. Slowly. Methodically. And then I get up, walk to the door, turn off the light, and wait for her to come home from school to see her giant bed, knowing in that just a few years - which will fly by shooting stars - it won't be so big any more. I want this ride to slow down but that's not an option. Parenthood is lived in the fast lane. Actually, it's more like the supersonic lane, traveling at the speed of life.