To my little brother, on his third day of fatherhood

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Dear Nicky,

Congratulations on the birth of your beautiful son. Seriously, he really is incredibly well-formed for someone who so recently squeezed through a birth canal. And how great that the labor was a breeze — only six hours from the time Rosa’s water broke to the arrival of baby Rocco. What a relief that she didn’t have to, say, suffer through thirty-six hours of labor only to end up with a C-section and a baby that looked like an angry prune fresh from a bar brawl. I’m so happy for her. Really.

It’s quite poignant for me to see you become a father since, as your big sister by seven and a half years, I have very clear and fond memories of your own babyhood. You were my own little doll, always willing to pose for a photo shoot with my Care Bears and Cabbage Patch Kids, and to submit to the vigorous kisses and caresses I bestowed upon your incredibly soft and sweet-smelling little head, causing Mom to yell about brain damage.

You were a sweet baby, docile and dreamy, but also given to moments of mischief. Like the time you gave yourself a haircut and hid the snipped-off locks under the baseboard heaters. As you grew older you had a tendency to wander off whenever we were out somewhere, which drove Mom and Dad insane, and your curiosity occasionally led to minor emergencies, such as when you got your leg stuck between the seats in the mall food court, and when you got your head stuck between the wrought iron bars at our house.

You have grown into a fine person, and as far as I know you don’t get your appendages stuck in things so much anymore. (Though you do have a knack for losing cell phones in whimsical ways, such as down an ice fishing hole.) You are kindhearted and beloved by everyone who knows you, even those who have met you only briefly. You have a preternatural calmness and a poetic soul, not to mention a weird sense of humor. You are an excellent juggler, and you don’t mind being dirty. In short, you are going to be a great dad. And given all of the assets you’re bringing to the job, I’m not sure you really need much advice. But, as your big sister, I’m going to share a few bits of hard-won wisdom anyway.

1. My first bit of advice is, don’t take anyone’s advice. More to the point, don’t let anyone tell you how to raise your baby or make you feel like you’re doing it wrong. If what you’re doing is working for you guys, then you’re doing it right.

2. Babies are a lot more durable than they look. When Theo was a newborn, I used to worry I was going to pull one of his arms off while attempting to dress him. Both of his arms stayed attached, happily, and he’s survived a lot worse than rough shirt changes over the last twenty-one months. Your baby will fall down and bleed profusely from the mouth. You will accidentally snip a bit of his skin while clipping his nails. And while you are wishing yourself dead, the baby will forget all about it and become obsessed with some fascinating dangling thing somewhere.

3. Babies kind of do fix everything. I don’t mean that having one will save a broken relationship or anything like that, but I do think that the little critters have a way of clarifying what is important in life and what is not, and you will cease worrying about what is not. It’s that simple! You will discover that you have way more strength than you knew and that you can function on way less sleep than you ever thought possible. You will also discover that you can love something so much that it feels like you’re wearing your skin inside out, and anything from a Folger’s Christmas commercial to a baby bird hopping around on a sidewalk will have the power to make you weep uncontrollably.

4. Mom will buy way too much stuff for the baby. Let her. It makes her happy.

5. Never say never. Chances are, you will find yourself thinking and saying and doing things you never in a million years thought you would think or say or do. For instance, Steven and I used to make fun of parents who talked about themselves in the third person. Now everyone in our house talks like Elmo. You might have certain ideas about child rearing, and that’s good! You just have to be willing to let go of most of those ideas once you are confronted with pesky old reality. Before having Theo, Steven and I used to sit around congratulating ourselves for being such great parents to our theoretical children. “It’s so sad,” we’d say, over a 10 p.m. dinner of wine and oysters. “X and X are slaves to nap time. Of course routine is important, but our child will be flexible enough to adapt to anything!” Know this: it SUCKS when your kid misses a nap. You will do almost anything to avoid this outcome.

I could go on all night, but I’ll end here for now because you need to put down the iPad and spend some time with your baby. But first, can you email me a few more photos?

Love,
Michelle

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