In all the lore of humankind, where might one discover the repository of missed steps, forgotten moments, and nonexistent memories? I ask only because it must be a wonderland of smiles, brimming with laughter, perfumed by the aromas of baby lotion, spilled milk and dirty diapers, overflowing with moments of pride, joy, tears and hope. I ask because I want to peruse that repository. I want to locate all the mispronounced words that have escaped my child’s lips, to find all the awkwardly worded sentences that so often make me laugh, to hear all the unanswered cries for Daddy and to taste every teardrop cried on someone else’s shoulder. More than anything, I want to experience all the moments of discovery I’ve missed now that my children are so often away.
For many a year, I was a stay-at-home dad. Each day, I watched my girls grow and learn from the moment they awoke until the hour they went to bed. Sometimes I felt burdened by the ache of suppressed ambition, but the challenge of entertaining and educating uncluttered minds was a fabulous undertaking. We laughed, we imagined, we pretended, we cried, we slept, we ate too many sugary fruit snacks and too few vegetables, we shopped, we played, we threw food on the floor, we danced, we sang, and we grew to know each other in a way only a parent can understand. With my oldest, I was there for every step, every word, every new idea. Whenever some bizarre sentence passed through her lips, I knew exactly where she learned it. I was her world, and she was mine.
A little more than a year ago, that changed. My wife and I separated and divorced. Soon I was forced to start working again (for obvious reasons). That meant the unthinkable: putting my kids in daycare and trusting their lives to strangers. I feared so many things. Thankfully, they’ve adapted well. They enjoy playing with friends and doing creative things. But it means eight less hours each day for Daddy to spend in their company. Worse, with their time split equally between my home and their mother’s, I don’t see them every night. I only see the cold, undisturbed blankets on their empty beds. I only listen to the silence emanating from their cheerless bedrooms. Indeed, if I could find that repository, I’d borrow all the sounds of a sleeping child and fill the emptiness with memories, for nothing is quite as sad as a child’s room bereft a child. Sadly, the repository remains elusive.
In some ways, it’s a curse. I’ve spent every hour of every day with them. I know what that’s like. I know exactly what I’m missing when I only see them a couple hours each day or when they’re gone for half a week. The vast and endless repository of what we miss grows with every lost moment, because, at such a young age, they know a little bit more about the world every time I see them. I wonder how much of what they’ve learned they’ll share with me…
And so I sit here contemplating who they are, who they’re becoming, and who they’ll grow up to be. I want to see it all, but I know it’s impossible. What we miss makes them who they are. What we miss is their world, their memories. I want to seek out that repository and explore it, because nothing we might learn reading books or asking questions could ever be more important than knowing our children. Nothing could be more important than discovering all those fascinating things we miss.
Originally posted on my at-home-dad blog, The Daily Writer, October 25, 2006.