My first daughter was born eight and a half years ago. In preparation for her arrival, I remember washing all of her tiny clothes with an expensive, baby-friendly detergent whose packaging evoked pure snowflakes collected by angels.
I can still smell those little pajamas as I pulled them from the dryer and rubbed them against my cheek, imagining what they would feel like with a live newborn wriggling inside.
While folding those doll-sized frocks and fleeces, I noticed a label sewn in the ones made by Carterís that said, ìIf They Could Just Stay LittleÖî Yes! I thought, If only they could. The thought of such a flawless creature as a baby growing into a surly, eye-rolling tween was both remote and reprehensible. Staying little was the only way I could envision living with this new person.
Obviously, this fantasy occurred before our daughterís actual birth. Once she was with us and about six weeks into her colic, I became convinced I had ruined my life. We had been blessed with a beautiful, blue-eyed non-stop screamer, and I could see no light at the end of the tunnel. At that point I was washing her clothes about once a day, and the act was somewhat less endearing than before. One particular delirious day, as I was folding her clothes (while simultaneously nursing), a Carterís label again caught my eye. This time it seemed to mock me. ìIf They Could Just Stay Little,î her pajamas hissed, like an evil queen bestowing a curse upon an innocent princess. I thought if I put my ear up to them I would hear a little voice going, ìBwahahahaha!!!î
I feared that these were not mere pajamas but some sort of cruel, combed-cotton fortune cookie. No longer able to bear the thought of my baby ëstaying little,í I packed up all of those pajamas lest I catch a glimpse of that portentous label. I spent the next two months dreaming of my daughter one day rolling her eyes at me, one day telling me Iím stupid, one day slamming a door, one day communicating with me in a way I could understand. My mother assured me that this day would indeed come. But for the time being all I could do was hug my baby and whisper into her precious, tear-soaked ear, ìPlease, Sweet Pea, canít we just talk about this?î
Six or so more weeks of this passed when a miracle happened. Out of the blue, she and I were suddenly as in synch as the cast of ìHairspray.î The tunnel was behind us and we were finally in the light. Parenthood, it turned out, was fun. Usually. Not only did we all survive those first dark months, we went on and had two more baby girls. And now that they are older I have learned that there is not just one tunnel but several in raising children. There is the tunnel of illness, the tunnel of medical tests, the tunnel of broken bones, of hurt feelings, bad test grades, miserable car trips, etc. And of course, thereís the biggest tunnel of all, uncertainty. The light, though, is my familyís acceptance of each other despite all of that, and I donít have to wait until the end of the tunnel to find it. Or give it.
Itís been a while since Iíve thought of that Carterís label, but I was tempted one day last week when walking my eight-year-old home from school. We were brushing through some fallen leaves on the sidewalk, and she picked up a pale orange, spotted one and explained to me how it was a metaphor of her vision of God. I was struck by her honesty and insight and wanted to stop time and crystallize the moment forever. If she could just stay littleÖ But I quickly banished the thought, knowing better. Instead I watched her sift through more leaves, inspecting and appreciating each oneís qualities, and prayed, ìIf I can just watch her growÖî
Jim and Tara Bailey, the parents of three young daughters, share this space to tell their life stories.