“How did we get here?”
One year after my daughter’s birth, that’s the question I ask myself. Looking back, that one year seems to have been condensed to a highlight reel of thoughts, scenes, and general feelings, all capturing snippets of the experience I’ve come to to know as “parenthood.” But there’s all the stuff I don’t remember too; all of it fits together to form that concept.
But parenting is an incomplete puzzle; there will be shit to figure out likely until the day I die.
I don’t want to forget this first year. I likely won’t, but in case the next few years are especially taxing on my mental faculties, I’ve put together a list of songs to remind me what it was like. Maybe you’ll enjoy them too.
“Birth of the Wicked” – Iced Earth
“So / Behold the birth / The wicked child.”
“Wicked” may be a bit extreme, but the birth was certainly something to behold. A new creature, tearing out of a living person in a vortex of blood and screams — that is the furthest thing from Sesame Street. If anything, the, ah, experience of it all served as a wake-up call to what fatherhood was really going to be like. The pregnancy was this passive thing, a waiting period; the birth was instantaneous and violent. To call my daughter “evil” is certainly hyperbole, but the process that led to her entering the world? There are synonyms for that, too.
“The Journey” – Pyramaze
“The path lies open wide / It’s up to me to glide / Through the maze.”
At some point, I realized what had happened: Life had merged into a single-lane, 8,000 MPH zone, where years would pass like minutes and disaster would seem not only unavoidable but a part of the experience. Shit was going to happen — sometimes literally — but this vehicle was going to keep on going. Where, I’m not quite sure, I just know that my daughter, my wife, and me are all strapped in together. Hang on tight.
“When The Lights Are Down” – Kamelot
“‘Cause when the lights are down / There’s no more to say / Love is the real pain.”
After Gorgonna was born, my wife and I had to adjust to our new nighttime schedule. Our one-bedroom apartment didn’t leave much room for conversation or other activities (like watching YouTube videos; get your head out of the gutter) while the baby was sleeping in the same room. Hobbies like playing on my practice pad were out of the question, and my wife would go to sleep early to prepare for being woken up late at night for feeding. As our daughter grew in size, so did her erratic sleeping patterns, and out of that I understood that making compromises was going to be a huge part of this first year. Because, in the end, she was worth it. That’s love, huh?
“2 Minutes to Midnight” – Iron Maiden
“Midnight / It’s all night.”
Gorgonna grew older, and the nights got longer. As I mentioned before, she didn’t have a great sleeping schedule, but I don’t think that was our fault. We tried putting her to bed at 8 PM every night, but we had little guarantee that, once she actually fell asleep, she’d stay that way. So I found myself sitting out in the living room, reading or writing on my phone, ever-vigilant for some sign of her waking so I could soothe her back to sleep before she woke my wife up. Midnight was an hour I saw a lot of, and then some. But “2 Minutes to 3 AM” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
“Lashed to the Slave Stick” – Nile
“Wailing in unendurable torment / Lashed to the forked slave stick by the neck.”
It didn’t take long to realize that our lives had no meaning anymore — all we did, we did for her. That’s an exaggeration, of course; I still found plenty of time to do things I wanted. But by and large, both my wife and I had to force our lives to revolve around our daughter’s needs. Couldn’t stay up too late; had to begin the nighttime rituals. I wouldn’t say we were enslaved, but the difference between being able to leave the house at 11 PM because you were jonesin’ for a pizookie and, well, not being able to, did challenge the freedoms I was used to having.
“Nightmare/The Dreamtime” – Motorhead
“A dark and faceless crawling fear / Despair, you can’t resist.”
One of the worst things about having a kid is imagining all the ways you could fuck their life up. There are so many horror stories, some of them real, that you hear on TV or the internet or wherever, and at the end of each day they all gather together into a storm of scary thoughts. By bedtime, which was whatever hour I physically got into bed after hours of soothing her, that storm could come raging out from that dark part of my mind, crashing into me like an avalanche of failure. Troubles of varying size and type, from disciplinary condemnations to financial fuck-ups, all of them seemed to want to rob me of precious sleep. Exhaustion would usually win out, but the storm would merely lie in wait, preparing to rage at me again.
“Learning to Live” – Dream Theater
“The way your heart beats / Makes all the difference /In learning to live.”
There was a period of several weeks (or was it months?) during my daughter’s first year where I just didn’t feel like a very good dad. I found I didn’t have many of the skills required to take care of a child within me, waiting to be unlocked when the Mantle of Fatherhood touched down upon my weary shoulders. Stuff online offered myriad solutions, but who would want to read that? Well, me for one, and read it I did. I read so much I didn’t know where to begin; the information seemed exhaustive and contradictory all at once. But the one thing I never read was how, over time, I’d get better at knowing what Gorgonna needed. And Gorgonna would get better at expressing those needs. Together (with the help of my wife, of course), we began to figure things out together. I realized that life with a child was going to be as much of a give-and-take relationship as the one I have with my wife, and I didn’t use any how-to guides for that, did I? Given time, things will turn out just fine.
“Speak” – Queensryche
“Speak the word / The word is all of us.”
Screams were her only language for the longest time. Then, other noises began to bubble out between her lips. Grunts, chirps, burps, and later full-blown babbling — these made up the soundscape to my days. At first they sounded little more than nonsensical noise, but I began to understand the tone of them. High-pitched screams meant she was happy; they didn’t sound like they were scraping the inside of her throat, like they did when she was upset. Developing her own language has been Gorgonna’s primary drive; sometimes she borrows sounds from us that she likes. I suspect I’ll have to stop cursing soon, maybe this blog can serve as an outlet for that??
“Night Crawler” – Judas Priest
“Sanctuary is being sought / Whispered prayers a last resort.”
“Daycrawler” would have sufficed, as my daughter’s developing mobile lifestyle wasn’t limited to the dark hours. While we were ooh-ing and ahh-ing at her ability to do pushups, she was strengthening her resolve to put those little limbs of hers to better use. Soon, she was stumbling off the little carpet we laid down for her. In our vanity, we thought that could contain her, but a week later she was hauling ass around corners; the sight of her little foot disappearing past the door frame and a giggle told us what we needed to know — she was moving, and nothing would ever be the same.
“And Then There Was Silence” – Blind Guardian
“Since we’ve reached the point of no return / We pray for the starlight / We wait for the moon.”
When we moved into a two-bedroom apartment, the last thing we thought would happen was that our daughter — our willful, sleepless child — would start sleeping through the night more often. I don’t know if it was having a room between our bed and hers or that she just felt the time was right, but we began to have nights where we didn’t have to be up with her for hours at a time. The bliss of a full night’s sleep that we’d gone without for what seemed like so many months had returned to us. Of course, after that first week she went right back to waking up in the middle of the night, but it offered a glimmer of hope. And really, what else is there?
“Rise Up” – Testament
“It’s time to rise up!”
It was the beginning of April. It seemed like Gorgonna had just mastered the sacred art of crawling when suddenly she went all bipedal on our asses. I knew that this was where it all started — you know, it. We had to put protectors on the sharp corners of our coffee table; we’d have to double our response time when she went into a room because who knew what she’d get into. She wasn’t content to sit in her chair in public; she would start invading other people’s space, forcing us into (ugh) social interactions with other parents. Mobility made her a force to be reckoned with, and it’s us who’ll be getting wrecked when that curiosity gets her into trouble.
“One” – Metallica
“I can’t remember anything / Can’t tell if this is true or a dream.”
Like I said up top, trying to envision what my life was like before my daughter was born… it doesn’t come to mind easily. I have to direct the mental resources currently being used to remember what’s in the diaper bag toward dredging up the Archives (or I could just look at old Facebook statuses… then again, let’s not do that). Anyway, that past me, the me who had the freedom to at least try to become more than Mostly Metal, if he really wanted to, can never come back. I’m in too deep now.
I don’t mean to make this all about me. But this is as significant a milestone for me as it is for her; I mean, I’m the one who’s going to remember it. A year ago, I was this anxious, excited, confused mess of a man, and my daughter was a ruddy, wet lump. Now look at where we are.