How One Man Really Feels About His Baby-to-Come
I should start by stressing (in case there are any family members reading this) that my wife is not pregnant, but we are now both in our early 30s, which means we find ourselves talking about having kids approximately 1,000 percent more than we used to just a couple of years ago. Sometimes, these discussions are grounded, logical and centered around topics like where to settle down or whether children need siblings. On other occasions, they're more abstract, leading us to consider how our plucky offspring would navigate a post-apocalyptic landscape or fare in a World War III conscription situation. Regardless of the hypothetical, however, there is one constant: Our imagined child is always a little girl. She has a name (which I have been instructed not to disclose), a personality and a tendency to bump into the furniture, owing to the terrible eyesight she has inherited from her myopic parents. She has a wardrobe of miniature outfits, the specific rotation of which depending on whether she wants to be a warrior princess or an astronaut or a dinosaur on any given day. She holds intense conversations with a variety of stuffed animal brothers and sisters, all of whom dote on her. She points at things on the street and exclaims loudly, "What does that do?" She totters around the room, squeaking her own name in little bursts of self-affirmation. This all probably sounds somewhat unhinged, like a calm-before-the-storm prequel to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but it makes us happy. In idle moments, we stand on each side of this this perfect little daydream, clasp a hand each and swing her gently back and forth as we go about our day together.
2. Because little girls have always told it to me straight.
Most notably, about 12 or 13 years ago, when I was working as a party host at a sort of Irish Chuck E. Cheese's, herding groups of 20-to-30 children from ball pit and play area to sticky linoleum "dining room." The goal was to make sure that every child's sticker stayed affixed to his or her chest for the 90-minute duration of the party, and that no one had an accident or got lost or hurt. I presided over hundreds of these gatherings, marshaling more children than I thought could possibly exist in all of Dublin. One day, while surveying the play cage, I noticed a tiny girl in a velvet dress and lacquered shoes standing in stickerless solitude by the haunted house (yes, this place had a haunted house, and, no, I don't know why). When I knelt beside her and said, "What happened to your sticker, love?" she gave me a look that would freeze your heart, noiselessly stomped her foot and said, "Don't you call me love," before turning on her heel and marching away. This girl is my hero. So memorable was her stridency, her delightful bolshiness, that I now can't imagine my own little one without these qualities.
3. Because they've made me privy to their schemes.
So many of my friends' and relatives' little girls are initially cagey about their schemes. They'll be in a corner, silently arranging toys like a general hovering over a war map, or dubiously cocking their heads as they amend, in crayon, some disappointing narrative turn in a picture book. My crouching down beside them to ask "Whatcha doin'?" is usually met with silence. But after a while, if I'm deemed worthy, I'll get an answer. This is often a breathless stream of words, coupled with an elaborate series of hand gestures, page-turnings and action figure exchanges, all of which may initially seem like gibberish but actually amount to a perfectly well-thought-out reckoning with the tableau before us. On no occasion has this welcome into the imagination felt like anything less than a gift.
4. Because if she goes after the things she wants the way my wife goes after stone fruit, she's going to be okay.
My wife spoke no English until she was 7 years old. She came to America at 12, got a scholarship to college at 16 and was a best-selling author in a language not her own by the age of 25. She knows everything about Carl Sagan and ancient Egypt and the Old West and every animal that's ever walked the earth. She can navigate Colorado white-out blizzards and the L.A. highway system with equal aplomb, and is prone to fantastic explosions of road rage. She loves Frasier and elephants and pickled pepper martinis and Bruce Springsteen and peaches, which she eats with relish despite being allergic to stone fruit. There's a picture somewhere of my wife as a toddler, sitting at a table behind a giant bowl of peaches, with her mother at her side. When I imagine my daughter, I think of this tiny, blond, bespectacled creature—defiantly reaching for those things that she loves, risks be damned—and how she grew up to be the fierce, kind, brilliant woman that came into my life five years ago.
5. Because there are some people she should meet.
People like my cousin, a human rights lawyer who advocates on behalf of marginalized refugee communities in Ireland; and my other cousin, who works to end human trafficking and promote women's political participation and labor rights; and her sister, who has spent years organizing vital environmental protest action in the west of Ireland; and my own sister, whose costume design work has taken her around the world and who fights for gender equality in Irish theater; and my mother-in-law, a trained economist who created a new life for herself and her daughter when her country dissolved; and my own mother, who has run 40 miles a week every week since 1980, and who raised four children by herself on a nurse's salary, and who sits with her elderly patients for hours after her shifts have ended because they need someone to talk to; and the women back home who are working day and night to repeal the country's archaic constitutional ban on abortion. I want to tell my daughter about all of them, call out to her from across the room and say, "Littles, can you stop drawing on the wall for a minute and come listen to a story?"
I want her to know what they've done so she'll know what she can do too.
Dan Sheehan is the author of the novel Restless Souls. Follow him on Twitter: @danpjsheehan.