Olive said her first cognizant word yesterday, and I’m pleased as punch. She’s been saying “Dada”, “Mama”, and “up” for a week or two now, but never attaching them to their proper meanings. However, I came in from being out for several hours to get my hair done, and Olive turned to me and shouted “Mama!” clear as day and very obviously connecting that Mama is me. She’s done it a couple more times today, so I know it’s not a fluke. I was thinking her first word would be something more obscure because everyone seems to have a cute story of their baby saying “steak” or “turtle” first but I have to say it was quite a thrill to hear her call out my name so clearly.
I think if Olive remembers anything of me from her babyhood when she is older, it will be my eyes, continually filled with water, as I can’t seem to look at her without tearing up. When we first had Olive I was shocked at how much having a baby is like falling in love — just as terrifying, all-encompassing, and wonderful — your heart is soaring one moment, and the next you are wondering which way is up, certain that you are drowning and this is all a terrible mistake. Now on a daily basis I have the thought “I have never known love like this before.”
But I do have some blueprint for it – my father was not a perfect man, but his love for my sister and I was incredible, a sight to behold, a force of nature. He was unambivalent about becoming a father — he broke up with the girlfriend he was seeing before my mom because she decided she didn’t want children. My father, who was basically not parented himself, was certain that having children was a non-negotiable for him. He started later than the norm, having us when he was in his early 40’s, and perhaps it was life experience that made him so certain that he wanted kids. His love for us was often shocking to me growing up — I’m sure other dads I knew did love their kids this way but it always seemed outsized, and sometimes overwhelming. He always, always, wanted my sister and I around, and was seriously bummed when we chose to go over friends’ houses or do other things than hang out with him. He came to every performance, sporting event, or academic function, his restlessness and abhorance for crowds and small talk putting him at the very back, taking frequent walks around the building while he waited for our turn. I recently re-watched an old VHS tape of a dance recital, and I simply couldn’t believe he sat through that many ridiculous groups of sequined-clad children just to see my sister or I leap across the stage for approximately three minutes. But now I get it. I understand this all-consuming love for your kids that defies all explanation or defense. Of COURSE I’ll sit through hours of terrible dancing to see Olive tap her feet out in front of her for two and a half minutes.
I am so, so, grateful for my father’s enormous love, which as a kid felt both wonderful and embarrassing, even smothering at times. It is his greatest legacy to me. Because of his undying belief in me, I take risks, and start projects with the hope that I can finish them, even if I never do. And I believe that years of being in the presence of his love filled up a store in me that I can now share with my daughter. So in a way he is loving his granddaughter through me, living on through our attachment to one another. The sermon today was all about the afterlife, and how we can connect with our lost loved ones through the sharing of the Eucharist. My father was not a religious man but I still felt his presence there, probably lingering toward the back of the church, taking a walk around the block through the boring parts, returning just at the moment I need his watching eyes the most, loving me from afar.