Four years is a long time.
When I first met Ella, all she did was eat, sleep, cry and poop—in softball terms this is known as a 4-Tool Player. Her bald little head and bowling ball-sized cheeks made everyone say, "Wow, she looks just like her Dad. Or the Mailman. Do you guys have a bald, big-cheeked Mailman?" And trust me, that joke never gets old.1
For months she remained a 4-tool player. She'd just lie there, looking at the sky. Occasionally she'd flash a muscle-twitch-induced smile that didn't signify her happiness, but it did ours. Her favorite activity was to sit in a bouncy seat and fall asleep. Though if they made a Dad-sized bouncy seat, it'd be my favorite activity too.
But those months are gone. She's no longer a bald little baby—she's a kid. A big kid. A big kid who writes her own name and takes swim lessons and goes to the beauty shop with her Mom to get her hair "styled." She understands complex things like addition and subtraction, our remote control, and how to change the wallpaper on my smart phone (which effectively makes her smarter than me). Her summersaults are now over the top instead of sideways. She has two beautiful sisters. She even has a boyfriend named Sammy (don't get me started).
The other day I was sitting with Ella and her 2-year-old sister, Anna, at the breakfast table. They had oatmeal; I had cereal. We were discussing the hot button issues that plagued today's world, like "Whose turn is it to use the newer princess placemat and who gets stuck with the older one, even though the older one looks identical to the newer one?" This discussion always lasts much longer than it should, and the only thing they can agree on is that it's never Dad's turn. The twist came when I got up and grabbed the bag of white-powered donuts and brought them back to the table.
"What are you doing?" asked Ella.
"I'm going to have a donut."
"You can't have a donut," she said.
"Why can't I have a donut?"
"You have to finish your breakfast before you are allowed to have a donut. Those are the rules."
I couldn't believe she was old enough to drop rules on me. My little baby, no longer a baby. As I closed the donut bag I wasn't sure whether to be proud of her for showing how grown up she's become or depressed because I really wanted that donut. So I did the mature thing that all Dads would do in this type of situation. I smiled at Ella and declared:
"Anna gets the new princess placemat today. End of story."2
Four years is a long time. But really, it's not.
In high school four years seems like an eternity; in parenthood it seems like an extended eye-blink. I guess that's why some of us have more kids, so we can relive the magical moments over again—even if only for a short time. And that's why our parents so desperately want grandkids, so they can relive those moments too—only this time they do it with cupboards full of sugary treats.
So while my eldest daughter can't read this yet, it won't be long before she can. When that day comes I hope she realizes how much I love her. I hope she knows that when I write about her and her sisters, I do it because it's the only way I can express how much I care about them. I hope that as she continues to grow and "Sammys" come and go, on each birthday she'll take a moment to remember that once upon a time I was her number 1 guy.
Unless Joey Votto is still a Cincinnati Red. Then I'll settle for number 2.
1 This is a lie. That joke is so old, it has mold on it.
2 I really, really wanted that donut.
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