Up is down. Day is night. And dogs and cats are playing together. Yes, indeed, my life has been flipped upside down, and I couldn’t possibly be any happier.
You see, I’m writing this column in a dark hospital room, watching my 2-day-old daughter sleep the kind of sleep that makes every fiber of my being dance in celebration, while at the same time causing every sensor of danger I have ever accumulated over the course of my lifetime to stand tall at attention.
If she is lying motionless, I panic. If she stirs, I panic. If she suddenly leaps from her slumber and begins dancing while singing show tunes, I... Well, I won’t panic. I’ll probably start calling talent agencies and daydream about a day when my little bundle of sunshine announces that I can retire off her talents and...
Yes, I digress.
The flood of emotions everyone has been telling me would come with her birth has arrived in the form of a tsunami. I cried silently the first time I held her in my arms, probably the first time I’ve cried tears of joy since I discovered the joys of boxer briefs, and I find myself laughing every time she flashes me a brief smile, which is more likely to be gas than any form of physical expression of love.
And that makes me laugh even more.
I look into her eyes and see a blank slate. She’s a person, obviously, but one with no direction, no aspirations, no hatred, no bigotry and no understanding that there are limitations on just how far a person can go in life. She has yet to be defeated by the realities of life, or be exposed to the hurtful words of others.
The world is still literally in front of her, and the only thing that makes me feel more sick than the thought of something dreadful happening to her is the reality that I can be one of the things in her life that makes her feel restricted in what she can see or accomplish in this precious life of hers.
I know I can be cynical, untrusting and wary of new things or people. I get manically focused on goals and often neglect to enjoy the journey or those around me while I’m chasing that carrot on the end of the stick. These are all awful personality defects, and I own them.
But she doesn’t have to, does she?
No, she has an opportunity to be something else. Something wonderful. And I fear getting her in her way.
I decided months ago that when my little Riley entered the world I would pen a column to her that offered wisdom and a blueprint on how to embrace and appreciate life throughout her journey.
My problem is that I have neither wisdom nor said blueprint, so I’ve had to re-evaluate how to go about this. I decided that what I have been consistently good at over the course of my life is making mistakes and recognizing when others have made mistakes.
I’m a bit of a mistake connoisseur, if you will.
So, young Riley, I offer to you a few pearls of wisdom I’ve put together for you — not because they are things I’ve mastered, by any means, but because they are things that I, or others I’ve observed, have made over and over again:
• Do not attempt to ride either of the dogs in your new home. The pug will be smaller than you by the time you are inspired to try this risky maneuver, and the shar-pei is not the most coordinated dog I’ve ever met. I tried riding my childhood dog, Tiny, as a kid, and, suffice it to say, it turned into...
You know what? Just don’t try it.
• Do not belittle yourself by belittling others. Do you want to know why so many wars throughout history have started? Because one group of people believed it was better than another. Race, gender, religion or ethnicity are never a reason to dislike another person. Attacking somebody because they look, pray or speak differently than you makes you look like the fool, not him or her.
• Do not be disrespectful. It’s very easy to answer a question with “sir” or “ma’am,” and don’t limit that to people of a certain age. Some people will correct you and ask you to call them by name instead. Some get offended because they feel you are treating them as old. If they ask you to call them something else, do so. But it never hurts to start out with respect.
• Do not leave your pet fish where your little sister can find it and eat it while you sleep. I still miss that fish.
• Do not feel you have to be a doctor or a lawyer or a professor or a writer to impress your parents. Just be rich and take care of us. OK, I’m kidding on that last part. Be what you passionately want to be — whatever that is. And then be the best you can possibly be at it.
You want to be a photographer? I’ll introduce you to photographers and help you get there. You want to be a zookeeper? I’ll take you to zoos and we’ll meet zookeepers. You want to be the first female to play baseball for the New York Yankees?
No. You will not be a member of the New York Yankees. But I have great things to say about the Baltimore Orioles.
• Do not ever question your father’s love. We’ve all been there when we felt our parents were being unfair. Question my judgment. That’s fair. I’m sure my judgment will be wrong. Question how I dress. Again, a fair point. But never question my love for you.
You stole that the first time I held you.