Wednesday, April 13, 2011
You Never Forget Your First
I never see my oldest.
I never speak with her and almost never communicate at all, except for occasional text messages and Facebook posts.
I remember February 26, 1991, as if it were yesterday. I remember the excitement and nervousness and hope and fear and worry and eagerness and amazement when she came out. I remember being surprised that it took two snips to cut the umbilical cord. I remember holding her for the first time, and driving so carefully on the way home from the hospital, and feeling so happy and afraid and different. Everything was different. I felt different and I was sure I looked different and what used to be important suddenly wasn’t anymore and I was a dad. A daddy. Of a baby!
I remember how she used to stand up in her crib in the morning, waiting to be picked up, and how happy and excited she would get when she spotted us. I remember her first birthday and Halloween and Christmas. Man, was she inundated with Christmas presents!
I remember the struggle to find good child care, and learning that the opinions of others, people with more experience and wisdom, didn’t matter when it came to good child care because, well, they were apparently willing to accept things that we just weren’t. This was Amelia.
I remember driving her to school and having her watch me through the window, tearfully, as I drove away. I remember trying to hide my tears.
I remember the first time I chaperoned a field trip, a milestone for every father.
I remember taking her to her first play date, with a little boy whose name I’ve forgotten, at a nice house out toward the Lansing Mall and insisting on exchanging medical insurance information with the boy’s mom, who looked at me as if I were a little crazy but I didn’t care because this was Amelia.
I remember how wonderful her mother proved to be, how loving and dedicated to our baby she was. I remember being surprised that she knew so much and could do so much and took such good care of Amelia, and how comforting it was to know that she had my back so I probably wouldn’t be able to screw up too much.
I remember dropping Amelia on the hardwood floor, right on her face, one terrible day and running next door to borrow the neighbor’s car because my wife had ours and I needed to get her to the hospital because she was screaming so loudly and I thought I broke her. I remember going crazy while they x-rayed her and wondering what I was going to tell her mother and feeling so relieved when the doctor explained that a baby’s face can actually absorb more shock than one would think and it’s a good thing that I hadn’t dropped her in such a way that she hit the back of her head because that would have been an entirely different matter and I was so sorry, so frikkin’ sorry that I wasn’t careful enough because this was my Amelia, goddamn it!
I remember trying to remain her Number One Guy even when her mom and I called it quits. I would be with her as much as I could and I tried to stay on good terms with my ex for her sake and I’d bring her to board meetings and I made her the center of my world – ask anyone who knew me then – and I cried at night in bed in my small apartment because I had ended up doing to my child what my father did to me – leave – and I swore I would never make the same mistake but I did.
For a while we stuck to the Wednesdays-and-every-other-weekend thing, but she clearly preferred being with her mom. One time I took her to Cedar Point Amusement Park and we were walking past the arcades and I asked her how she liked it so far. “I wish Mommy was here,” she responded. She started asking to be taken home early on Sunday nights, then she started asking if she could just stay with her mom. And for reasons that I can’t explain and can’t understand, we grew apart.
I made a huge mistake by deciding not to get a lawyer to help enforce my custody rights because I wanted Amelia to WANT to be with me, not be court-ordered to be with me, so I would go weeks without seeing her.
I remember letting her have sleepovers with friends at my apartment and thinking if I had to take care of somebody else’s kids in order to see mine, that was fine with me. I remember entering her in an “Absolutely Incredible Kid” contest sponsored by a local radio station and her winning. I remember taking her to Lake Michigan and having to explain why it smelled so bad (massive alewives die-off). I remember proudly bringing her to the office with me for “Take your Daughter to Work” Day. I remember coming home with two turtles from the pet shop, red-eared sliders named Franklin and Oliver, because she liked turtles. I remember teaching her how to parallel park.
But I never sent her off to prom in a shiny, poofy dress.
I never saw her graduate from high school.
I made so many mistakes.
I stopped knowing the names of her friends and if she had a boyfriend and what her favorite radio station was. I made an appearance when she had surgery, and I tried to be there when she and her mom started having problems, and I surprised her by bringing her soup once, and I even went to court with the two of them to help get her out of trouble for a driving infraction. But it wasn’t the same. I wasn’t Tier One.
We went a year without speaking at all. She even changed her last name to her mother’s. That hurt. But then we reconciled, and I had such high hopes that we could figure out a way to be connected again, like when she was little and we’d sit on the floor in the kitchen in the morning and eat Oreos and laugh and pretend we were watching a movie – she called it our “movie veeter” – or we’d dance in the basement to Cameo and Babyface. But it hasn’t happened.
People tell me I need to be patient. She’ll come back to me in her own time, they promise.
But I don’t know. It looks like I might have this gaping hole in my heart forever.