Well, after four months, it’s finally time. Next week I go back to work, and KRH starts day care.
I don’t know if I have words to describe this summer, but I’ll try. It’s been a wondrous experience. I’ve learned so much about this new and tiny life, even as he continues to become less new and tiny. June, when I left work, seems a very long time away and the month have been marked by countless adventures and experiences. It hasn’t been that long, and yet in that time, KRH has gone from barely sitting to crawling to trying to stand. He’s embraced a love of food and then gotten picky. He’s met a lot of people, seen a lot of things, played with a lot of toys, and had a lot of naps. And I’ve been there for the majority of it.
Being the primary parent, as CRH and I like to call it, has been a totally different experience than just being Dad for a few hours a day. I’ve learned what KRH does when he’s hungry or when he needs a nap. I’ve learned how to judge his moods and emotions. I’ve found things he likes (right now, books, his soother after hating it for 11 months, and larabars) and things he doesn’t (swimming class, not being allowed to eat cat food or play in the cat fountain). And I feel so much closer to him than I did before. For the last four months, I’ve been the one in charge of keeping him alive, happy and healthy, and if I say so myself, I did a pretty good job.
Of course, I’m a big believer that KRH is going to succeed in spite of his parents, rather than because of us. But I want to do what I can to equip him to become a responsible and kind adult. And I’ve learned not just how hard that is, but also how I want to go about it going ahead.
I’m probably never going to have another experience like this summer. I will happily take parental leave again for future kids, but then I’ll be thinking about KRH +, not just one child. There’ll be less of an ability for me to simply learn and more of a requirement to do things on my feet. I think I’ll always think back to this time fondly.
That said, it wasn’t all easy. I think I now understand so much of what CRH went through. Even though KRH was older, taking care of him all day was a draining task, because so much of it is listening to a baby cry, or fighting naps, or changing diapers, or trying to get him to eat, or struggling to entertain him. It took up far more time and energy than I expected, even expecting that it was going to take up a lot of time and energy. There were times I found myself upset, frustrated and sad, because it was hard.
I don’t know if this is a journey all parents go through. I suspect it is, though I recognize how lucky I am to both have a partner willing to split the parental leave, and to live somewhere with that much parental leave. I’m also intensely lucky to have a lot of support available, from grandparents and friends and even the child-minding at the gym, things that very much helped keep me sane.
When I’ve had moments, I often pause to reflect on this strange situation. Somehow, it still feels unreal that I helped create a life, have helped take care of it and now I’m responsible for guiding it and growing it. It still leaves me feeling gobsmacked. I mean, what fool allowed this? Me, having such an important task? And the more I’ve seen KRH grow and learn, the stronger the gravity of the situation seems. A life. How do I protect and nurture it to ensure that it becomes everything it can? How do I do it in a way that there’s absolute certainty of success, which is exactly what he deserves?
There is no way. Nothing is certain, though I wish there was. And even if I could spend every waking second working toward that, it might actually not be what he needs. It certainly wouldn’t be what I need, or what CRH needs.
A week from today, KRH starts day care. As much as I wish he could stay with me forever, I think this is going to be very good for him. He’s a bit shy, but very social, and full of energy and a desire to go and learn and play. Day care is a place where he’ll meet new people and have new experiences and much more.
Meanwhile, I’ll go back to work and think about how I can make my life more like what I want it to be. That won’t be the worst thing for me either. I’ll have more energy for KRH when we both get home, because we’ll need to get our quality time in a much shorter period. And I’ll need to get back to being focused. In a way, the last four months have been an interlude on the rest of my life, and so very glad I had it. But now it’s time to start working on shaping the way life will be for the coming years. And I look forward to that challenge.