I should have known babies become people.
When I let mine cry for so many nights, hoping the parenting textbook would win in the end, I didn’t realize who I (and the author) was up against. I forgot Susanna was actually a person. I knew, of course, that adults have unique personalities and are unpredictable, but babies, according to my book, were supposed to be different. It promised they could be managed with a few simple formulas and I figured if every other baby could learn to sleep after three nights of crying, mine could too.
It took 39 nights of listening to her screams before I admitted perhaps my child didn’t fit the mold. I finally caved and went back to nursing her whenever she wanted, thinking both she and I had failed miserably. I didn’t know then that this should have been a reason to celebrate, to toast the child flailing in the crib with the chubby cheeks and wild hair and say, “My, what endurance you have! How passionate you are! What great things will you accomplish, my baby?”
I couldn’t have known the same perseverance that fueled her cries as an infant would keep her bow on the violin until she got all the notes right. How at five years old she would practise a fiddle tune for an hour before giving up. Or that when she was eight she would decide she was going to send $450 a year to a child in Uganda, without any allowance or reliable income. To this end, she and her sister have thrown themselves into selling garlic, ice cream, and baking, but recently Susanna decided she needs to diversify her fund-raising efforts. Now she wants to sell entertainment.
“We’ll have a talent show and people will pay to see it,” she says while scribbling a list on her notepad. So far there are two names under performers: “The Walkers”, our family friends (this is your heads up by the way), and “Vivian”.
“Okay, so where are we going to have it?” Susanna asks.
She mentions the biggest theatre in town and I get nervous. Who will sign up? And who will come watch? I envision kids plunking out notes on the piano, awkward skits, and audience members with pained expressions, and quickly realize this is something I don’t want to be in charge of. Then I remember I’m not in charge, she is.
The dedication she showed at 9-months-old in the middle of the night is the same dedication she pours into her self-appointed role as our family activity programmer.
“Don’t forget to sign up for Adventure Night this Tuesday!” she booms into her paper towel roll. “Step right up, ladies and gentlemen… This Tuesday night!” She throws down her home-made megaphone and adds more slots to her sign-up sheet with unwavering optimism.
Her endurance also manifests itself in her culinary interests. For months she asks me to order the cookbook Ratio, which is more of a guide on the chemistry of ingredients than a recipe book. I finally give it to her for her birthday and the next few days she takes it everywhere. I imagine her on the bus, squished between fourth-graders and backpacks, reading about the proportion of liquid to flour in onion bread, or how to infuse ginger and orange zest into heavy cream to make truffles. When she comes home from school her first words are often, “Mom can I bake something?” to which my response is almost always negative. Still, she keeps asking.
The passion I used to hear in the timbre of her cries I now see in her love of words. She consumes books and reads her favourite novels many times over; when friends come to play I keep my eye on her to make sure she doesn’t sneak away—I’ve found her in a corner with a book before, leaving her company to entertain themselves. She likes writing as much as she does reading and has a file on our computer with several manuscripts in process. She is a poet, lyricist, and as of last week, a religious devotional writer. I found this reminder on my pillow recently:
Years from now, if my daughter has her own little one who insists on crying through night, I might, for a split-second–if I am feeling very small, think it serves her right. But then I will remember the singing fiddle, bake sales, shows and adventure nights, and say, “Congratulations! You’ve been given the gift of baby who is actually a person! With a unique personality that will probably frustrate, surprise, and entertain you, but most certainly, amaze you.” Then I’ll raise my glass and say, “Cheers!”
PS. Wait! Don’t leave yet! You forgot your treat bags. First, there’s this title to check out of your library: The Merchant of Marvels and the Peddler of Dreams. It’s bizarre, creative, and beautiful and will make you want to write poems, draw, and give crazy gifts. (We gave it to Susie for her birthday.)
Then there’s The (Kirsten) Collective, a blog authored by my brilliant friend living in Nairobi, Kenya. I particularly loved this lecture on writing. I also use her life uninterpreted section to get me warmed up, and remind myself how to be an observer, before I start my own writing. Enjoy!