Last week, I was going through my iPad, looking at pictures of my daughter through the eight months she’s been in this world. Littered throughout various blurry shots and repeats of literally the same exact pose are videos of various stages of motor skills. Here she’s crawling; In this one she’s rolling over. As I swipe left, the feats of physical skills become less and less impressive. It’s what we do as parents, especially first-time parents. We think every little thing our child does is amazing. It’s not.
A friend of mine told me, when our daughter was born, that, “People have been having kids for a long time, but when it’s yours, it feels like the first time anyone’s ever done it. And, in a way, it is.” Sound advice, really, and captures the heart of all of this: that the mundanity is what we’re looking for. The simplest moments can be the best moments.
Most of my work is done from home. It’s a good thing, mostly. We get to skip the exorbitant cost of day care. Our daughter is with a parent at all times. We worry a bit about socialization, but I think most other kids are assholes. She’s better off with me. I have hotter takes on the sports world, plus I’m smarter than most toddlers. Ever seen them try to fit blocks into the correct holes? Most of the time they completely screw it up.
In working at home, I’ll be able to introduce our daughter to classic albums (we’re currently big Astral Weeks fans), public radio, the joys of mid-morning naps, and after-lunch walks with the dog. She helps me prep dinner, which amounts to not much more than picking up stray onions or peppers and me having to wrestle them away from her before she sticks them in her nose.
I figured there’d be a schedule. We’d wake up, have a cute little breakfast together like in those Cheerio commercials. She’d play peacefully with her toys for a couple of hours. While she did this, I’d get some note-taking done for an article I’m working on, or get work done on something larger. I’d shoot out a couple of e-mails all the while glancing over occasionally and commenting, to myself mostly, “Of course she’s behaving. She’s perfect.” Then she’d nap around the time the pot of coffee was finished and I’d write for the two to three hours she napped.
We’d repeat this schedule until late in the afternoon, when my wife would walk into our home to the scene of a father and daughter sitting on the couch reading a book with the dog at their feet. “Dinner will be ready in about an hour,” I’d say, “Oh, and I handed in another piece and a couple of new pitches found homes.”
Of course, I’m an idiot for thinking this way. It wasn’t too bad at first because she was immobilized. If I could deal with a little fussing, I could get some chores done, some writing done. She was a good baby, too. Very self-directed and happy. Then she learned how to crawl. Then she learned how to climb. As I write this, I assume she’s in the next room learning to drive a car.
My days now are filled with chasing. She eats breakfast alone and gets filthy, then screams when I wipe her face as if I’m sanding her smooth. Her playing now involves climbing everything from bookshelves to couches to hutches to refrigerators. When she naps, it’s when I do things like shower, eat, use the bathroom, and punch myself in the chest. Usually by the time the weeping (mine, not hers) stops and I pour a cup of coffee, the baby monitors chimes because she’s either thrown her pacifier at the camera like a pissed off convict or she’s put on a Metallica CD.
It is, unlike her very Bush League kicking or rolling over, quite impressive actually. She can climb stairs. She rarely falls anymore. She can make it from the living room to the dining room — passing through the kitchen on the way — with the stealthiness of a samurai. When she realized we weren’t coming to get her when she would cry at night, she decided she’d try to come to us, using all her might to scale her crib wall like it’s the Khumbu Icefall on Everest.
She’s an absolute hurricane tearing through our home each and every day. Some days I’m FEMA; Some days I’m Red Cross; Some days I’m part of the wreckage and some days no writing gets done at all. It’s a difficult and frustrating way to spend a day. But the fact that she can create all this havoc and fear and frustration and exasperation, and then make me fall much more in love each time she fades into a deep sleep in my arms? That’s impressive.
One of the facets of journalism that I’ve always been interested in is the collection of otherwise inconsequential numbers and frivolous facts. We recall difficult-to-spell last names and memorable-sounding hometowns. The stories we tell end up becoming a part of the fabric of our memories, and dot our conversations — when they sway a certain way — with sentences with begin with, “I was talking to someone once who said …”
The point, I guess, is that there are stories, both large and small, that stick with us. Maybe not in their entirety, but points of interest or fascination remain as fragments of some larger portrait of who we are. Sometimes, even the stories we don’t tell remain. All writers have files and files of unpublished material, thousands of words unfiltered, unedited, unorganized, research done for stories we never got to tell.
Sparing the details, I wanted to tell a modernized version of the Tom Waddell story last summer, in the year of his 60th reunion from Springfield College. Waddell’s story is a remarkable tale that Dick Schaap wrote a book about, and that my friend Marty Dobrow masterfully retold for ESPN. Long story short, he beat me to it by a few months. It’s a story I’m happy to have lost to him. Losing it to anyone else would have been heartbreaking.
Having said all of this, Waddell’s story, one that I read in college at our alma mater is a story that has endured in my mind. I said to Marty, during his presentation to Waddell’s classmates at the reunion weekend, “This is a story you must feel so grateful to be able to tell.” Some stories are like that.
And so I couldn’t help but think of Waddell when another decathlete, Bruce Jenner, decided to tell the world on 20/20 Friday night that he was living life as a transgender. That’s what happens in journalism. When something important happens, we immediately seek a precedent. In cases like Jenner’s, where there will undoubtedly be people who are intolerant or confused at what transgender means or just plain old mean, it is important to look back in our files and smile that the stores we have told — or, in this case, almost told — are of the people who’d be incredibly proud of Jenner’s braveness.
Jenner’s story on 20/20 with Diane Sawyer was, as he predicted, an emotional two hour of television. The program was aided greatly by doctors and experts on gender identity who explained the basics of the transgender community; ABC also did a wonderful job adding anecdotes about the difficulties transgender people face on a daily basis from society. Some of these stories were heartbreaking tales of abuse and violence and suicide. Again, I couldn’t help but think about Waddell facing the same ignorance so many years ago; I couldn’t help but feel helpless watching Bruce Jenner explain his inner turmoil the same why I know Waddell did as they succeeded at the very pinnacle of athletic achievement: the Olympics.
We have a long way to go, of course. We don’t readily accept things we don’t understand. The media doesn’t help sometimes. Sensationalism sells. Intolerance does too. As tolerant and loving as a family can be, I’m sure even that famous family will face some obstacles and discomfort. We’re not perfect, but we are living in a society much more accepting and understanding than when Waddell came out of the closet — also very brave — in the same year Jenner was setting the decathlon record in Montreal. I wonder if these two men ever met. I wonder if Jenner thought of his own struggle when he read of Waddell’s in People in 1976.
I can say with certainty, though, that from what I know about Waddell, wherever he is. He’s proud.