- Ryan ZumMallen
The phone has gone away lately. It stays in the pocket as I squat down
to pick her up from a stumble, or lays in the coat pocket as I gallop
in hot pursuit. It is there if I need it as a phone, but it has ceased
to serve its once-main purpose as a camera, tapping away in feverish
bursts down the slide. One year and a half into parenthood, today, the
main difference in the way I interact with Claire is that she gets all
of me at all times, even if it means we are going to lose some of our
moments to time.
Part of that is the exponential way that she has progressed lately. It
seems like she went from gelatinous blob to walking doll to
expressive, emotive and entrusting soul who desperately seeks
interaction, most of all, in a matter of moments. Claire is most
herself when she knows you are listening, or when she grabs your
fingers to lead you on a journey, or when she is dancing without
abandon to “The Octonauts” theme song and she looks up and sees that
you are doing the same. I count the fact that two of her favorite
things are wearing hats backward and cartoonishly turning steering
wheels as testament to our time together, and personal parenting
triumphs worthy of top billing on my LinkedIn page.
I wrote before Claire was born that something felt different, knowing
that we were going to have a girl and not a boy, but that I didn’t
know what it was or how to fully articulate it, and that maybe I would
address it at a later date. I think, now, that I would have been much
more forward with a son. I think that I would poke and prod him, and
encourage him to wrestle and toughen up and bounce up and ask for
more. It wouldn’t be premeditated, but I would want a playmate, a
workout buddy. I don’t know whether that’s right, or even acceptable,
or even true. I just think that’s how it might be different.
Because with Claire, I’m just in awe. Constantly. I want to absorb her
at all times. Her babbles, her wobbles and her emotional swings. I
want to encourage the highs and coo through the lows; always
influencing but never dictating. I want to follow her lead and bring
out more of what she shows me. I hardly ever tell her no, and when I
do, she thinks it’s funny and then I can’t help but laugh. What else
is there to do? For me, at this formative time in her life and
learning where she figures out her most basic likes and dislikes, the
only option is to watch her come to grips with herself and be there
when she needs me or wants me.
Maybe you could say the same thing about the way that I am with my
buddies versus my lady. In college, we had a daily game where we would
throw a Nerf football to a roommate and whoever was closest had to
tackle him, no questions asked; that feels like how I would have been
as father to a son. My entire relationship with Nikol, on the other
hand, has been predicated upon doing whatever I can to enhance the way
she already was; exactly my parenting style with Claire. Step 1: Let
them figure it out. Step 2: Encourage. Step 3: Repeat.
What that has all boiled down to is a young girl who, knowing she has
a network of support behind her, goes after what she wants with
reckless abandon. Sometimes it means that she learns in her own unique
way and at her own unique pace, and sometimes it means that she gets
extremely upset when she doesn’t get what she wants (and gets the
nickname “Little Miss Attitude” from some Stepford Wife whose kid was
simply not as interesting as the boys that Claire is used to playing
with – shoutout to Chip). She also rocks Jordans and loves Kanye
videos. Ok, so maybe I have had SOME influence.
It is simply astonishing the difference that eighteen months makes. It
seems like she has always been in my life, and simultaneously, that
she was a bean in Nikol’s belly only yesterday. Most of all, I can’t
believe the things that make her so distinctly her: the wherewithal,
the ability to imitate an entire process, the personality traits that
are equal parts Nikol and equal parts me and equal parts whatever
Godzilla was like as a toddler. All of it combines to create a human
being that can literally reduce me to tears or laughter on a whim, in
the middle of my workday. I knew that having a child was going to take
me over emotionally, but I was not prepared for what having a Claire
would be like.
So I’m trying to absorb all of that. Every day. I might pull out the
phone, once in a while, and snap off a pick that I share with y’all.
An incredible feat of strength, a full frontal assault on a blueberry
muffin, unrestrained joy with her grandpa. But these are only ever
after the fact, after I’ve observed her doing something long enough
that I know a photo won’t interrupt. Only after the moment has shifted
from classic impromptu Claire to sustained ridiculousness. At this
point in her life, it’s all I can promise you. The rest are for me.
The rest are for us.