I don’t really do babies. I love dogs, and tiny animals and made a living for many years playing with little kids. But someone whose survival depends solely on the competence of the adults around him is terrifying to me. It’s too much pressure and you can’t communicate and what if I go to answer an important work email and drop you on your head?
When I heard you were coming, my excitement was mostly for the joy of my brother and sister-in-law, and my mom, we’ll get to her, who’s waited 64 years to fulfill her life’s purpose of being the best grandma(rf) on earth. You are lucky, you know that, right? She is going to spoil the shit out of you, claim she doesn’t, then spoil you even more. When, in your adolescence you act entitled and self-absorbed she’ll blame herself entirely, but continue to give you everything you want, and more, for the rest of your life.
Your dad and I will be there to remind her, it’s just a phase.
You were 13 hours old the first time I got my arms around you. The hospital had you bundled in what looked like a million soft, thin blankets, and I could barely feel your tiny body underneath. I touched my fingers on the fabric and imagined myself, in the future, dressing you in lululemon. You’ll have outrageously expensive taste and exquisite style and I’ll have core shorts altered by a talented seamstress so you can rip them to shreds on the youth soccer field.
I bet you’ll be a terror, like your dad.
He was small as a kid, but completely fearless. He’d take on 11 year old boys, with beards, who were three times his size. Shoulder first, no hesitation, his whole body in the play. Sometimes he’d disappear behind the big, gangly body in front of him, then emerge, triumphantly, with the ball. My dad would leap from his seat on the sideline and cheer, with both hands in the air. “Way to go GOBBLER,” I’d hear, then I’d look across the field and see my brother’s whole face light up. Nothing was more important to him than making his dad proud. His teammates called your dad, L.T., after a famous (badass) linebacker who played professional football, a sport I’m pretty sure will be outlawed by the time you’re my age. This won’t be the last time I tell you this, but, I wanted to be just like your dad growing up. Everything he did, and said and believed, looked, and sounded, and was, so much better, and cooler, than I’d ever be. Even now, when I go in for a tackle, I channel my inner “L.T.”
Your parents, by the way, are insanely hip. Your dad has a collection of shoes and hand-made leather bags that could put you through college, twice. Your mom is the best hairstylist west of the Mississippi and even when she’s in her lounge gear, she makes me feel like I’m wearing a garbage bag. You’ll never have to worry about not getting a date or playing tuba in your high school’s marching band or being a virgin when you’re 25. You are destined for social greatness. You’ll be charming and hilarious and the life of every party and it’ll be a total riot until you’re fifteen and my brother makes me talk to you about having safe sex. It’s all good though, I’m going to be awesome at it. I’ll struggle sometimes when you’re younger but once you hit puberty I’ll be your best friend. I have few boundaries and will let you ask me anything. I will unapologetically offer you details of my brother’s wild-child teenage escapades as a sort of emotional pay back for him being such a fuck-up that I could never do anything wrong myself. Your dad will beg me to be a better role model and partner in his parenting of you and I will tell him he should of thought about that when he was pawning my backstreet boys CDs for drug money, way-back-when.
Sorry, in advance, for hitting on your friends.
Do your best to stay out of any big-time trouble when you’re a teenager. We are not a family of under-achievers. My dad will have you in your first Cal Bears t-shirt before you can walk and we’ll be talking about colleges and career paths at your third birthday party. Try not to get overwhelmed, this is totally normal. There are a lot of doctors in your bloodline and your paternal grandpa will make sure you feel the pressure of it. Nothing can save you from the peril of high expectations, but I’ll do my best to talk you off the ledge when you’re having a test anxiety breakdown before you’re old enough to drive. I’ve been there, buddy. I get it.
Speaking of high expectations, we should talk about grandpa Little. He’s even more eccentric than you realize and it won’t be until you’re way older that you fully understand the depth of his genius, and ridiculousness. You’ll want him to toss the ball around in the back yard and carry you on his shoulders and give you cash out of his bulky wallet for no reason but it probably won’t be like that, most of the time. You’ll see movies and TV shows and maybe other real-life “Grandad” relationships and wonder what’s wrong with yours. It’s o.k. Really. Special, even. He’ll show you he loves you by building you elaborate contraptions you don’t really need but will seem awesome when he describes them to you. He will buy you your first car, and probably your second and take meticulous care of it for you even when you have no respect for it, yourself. On the holidays, he’ll write you a gigantic check and heart felt card. You’ll blow through the cash right away on condoms and comic books, but you should keep the cards forever. I have a stack of them in a bookcase that I look at when I feel like I’m not living up to my potential.
It’s a powerful thing to be reminded that people love you, no matter what.
Your grandma, on the other hand, is a dream come true. She has all of the classic Grandma characteristics but looks and acts like she’s 35. You’ll be chasing her up hiking trails when you’re 13, wondering how an almost- eighty year-old can possibly walk this fast. She will love you more than anyone in the world and make you feel like you’re the only person that matters. Then, you will look around and realize she’s loving everyone that way, and not understand how she does it. She bakes extraordinary desserts and makes hearty, homemade dinners. She spends the annual national income of the entire African continent on Christmas presents and you’ll be the beneficiary of it. Sometimes you’ll lie to your friends about what she gave you but they’ll know right away when they trip over three-thousand dollars worth of action figures when they enter your bedroom. She won’t care what grades you get or what you do with your life as long as you’re happy. If you decide you are an athlete she will be in the front row of every game. If you like to fish, or fence or fancy yourself a writer she’ll seek out a specialty summer camp and pay for you to attend, every year. She will witness every, major moment in your life. You might get student of the week or a minor speaking part in the school play or catch a particularly big lizard on a field trip. She will celebrate all of it. Like it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you. Or her.
From me, you can expect straight talk and spectacular vacations. I will applaud all of your swagger and confidence and encourage you to live into your strengths. I will not tolerate sexism and will constantly remind you how much more money I make than your dad even though I am a woman. I will tell you to be humble but that you’ll have to look to someone else to learn how to do it. I will take you to the great pyramids and the Andes mountains and we will ski together in Whistler, every year. In return, I expect that you grow up to not be a douche bag, an attorney or an investment banker. That you vote democratic and that you try to recycle and that you take good care of your younger sister, if you have one. I’m sorry that I didn’t provide any cousins for you to play with, but it frees up some extra income for your birthday presents and my house is rad, and empty, because of it. You can come visit me whenever you like. Sometimes, when I’m making you breakfast in the morning, you’ll catch me looking at you and my eyes will well up and you’ll ask me what’s happening. I’ll be totally humiliated because I still hate crying in front of people but sometimes I can’t help myself when I’m with you.
Because I just love you so damn much and the truth is, I still can’t believe you made it here. To my home, to my life, to the world that almost took my brother away from me so many times. I used to dream about you when I was little. I could picture my brother with his son, running through a big, open field, teaching him to kick a soccer ball, with a golden retriever nipping at his heels.
But there were years where I gave up the hope, the image, of our future together. Where my imagination filled up with the words I would use to say goodbye to him at his funeral.
When I look at you, I see a small miracle. A reflection of resilience, and strength and courage and love. Of the best friend I grew up with. Of the future we have not yet lived.
My love for you, already, is more than I expected.
I will love you. forever.
No matter what.