Yesterday Lua turned 3 years old.
She helped me get through my dark days. She still does. And her ability to navigate people (already!) amazes me. She has such a giant personality. Definitely a proud daddy.
I’ve had this habit for a long time where I write down my thought process for decisions and big events. I’ll periodically review them to either understand flaws/gaps in my thinking with the benefit of hindsight, or pat myself on the back for my prescience (not frequent, but it sometimes happens). It kind of feels like checking up on a kid to see how he’s doing. Except the kid is me and turns out that time offers an interesting vantage point of seeing oneself without so much judgment, as an objective observer. This tends to be a deeply satisfying activity as I get to see either how I’ve grown, or if I haven’t, it often will point to areas of stagnation. It also reminds me why I made certain decisions and what I was thinking/where I was at that point. It’s so easy to forget.
In reflecting on Lua’s 3 year mark I pulled out a letter I wrote to the un-named baby. I remember ducking into the bathroom, 5 minutes on evernote. Here it is.
Here’s a letter to you, my as yet unnamed daughter.
I’m sitting here with your mother and doula (Shannon) at st Luke’s hospital. This is where your brother Saul was born not 5 years ago. Labor this morning has been tough – we’ve been up since 2am with painful contractions. The anesthesiologist put in the epidural about an hour ago – a first in 3 births. Your mom is tough! Despite being fully dilated (meaning you’re ready to come out) mom is sleeping soundly.
I’m deciding on names here in the precious few moments of downtime. It’s not easy. We’ve been thinking about this for a long time and still no good name we agree on. Mom always liked ‘Lua’ as over the years we would catch ourselves looking at the still moon – offering light to humans in the dark of night – wondering about life if we had a daughter. Maybe this will be your name. But when I meet you it might not ring true. I want to match the name to the person. I’m waiting to meet you. To see what’s in your eyes. Then we’ll decide. They are about to break your water bag to get things moving.
Why is naming so hard?
The name is not merely the vocal sounds we’ll be uttering for the rest of our lives. The most important part is what it’ll mean to you as you journey through this interesting planet of ours. How will it shape your identity?
It’s good to be without a name for a bit. There is such urgency to name things – as though labeling them removes some fundamentally troubling aspect about the mystery of existence. To name a thing is to corner and trap it. I’m quite alright sitting in that mystery for a few days with you and your infinite possibility.
How is it that life occurs with such regularity? It’s easier to grow a baby than to draw a snapshot of one with a pencil and paper (try it sometime). We manipulate the body with drugs at certain concentrations and time intervals – our anesthesiologist was truly excellent – all knowable and regular occurrences with good batting averages. But all this leads to a false sense of knowing. Truth is if you pull on the thread hard enough we really don’t understand as well as the labels indicate we do. We label our food with nutritional information but still don’t understand metabolism well (no consensus on what ideal nutrition looks like)… We understand how anesthetics work but we don’t know why life is tuned to receive anesthesia. So there’s a neat paradox at play. We know how to do certain things really well, but we don’t quite know why they work. We’re like kids that have been handed instruments: we make them sound good without quite knowing what sound is. We don’t get to decide much in terms of your nature. Picking a name is hard because it’s the first real decision we’ll make as your parents. And I don’t want to start things off with a mistake. You are still perfect.
I listen to the background hum of a fan, ticking clock, muted outside traffic. Perfection…ah, no such thing in our world. Why? Let’s talk quickly about what it means to share a world with other people, with so many different characters. I had different anxieties with your brothers – mostly focused on my own worthiness, ability and readiness to jump into fatherhood. With you it’s different. I feel capable enough in managing the basics – discipline, bedtime routines, changing diapers, or changing the subject (people call it redirection to try and sound smart).
But I really don’t know how to raise a daughter. And I don’t have a good model to follow or intuition about how to do this. The women in my – our – family have struggled with lots of challenges not worth going into here.
So in considering what it is I hope for you my initial gut reaction is something akin to damage control. I’d like your own light to shine with as little diminishment from either my own mistakes, or the insults a woman in this world can expect to encounter: from those that intentionally wish you harm, to well-intentioned but poorly implemented parenting, to personal issues related to confidence or self-esteem, and so many more!). It’s not worth listing them here either because you’ll come to know them through media, stories and life experience. I won’t and cannot sugar coat that.
But damage control isn’t good enough. That’s to concede defeat. As your guardian I will try not to shield you outright (I will if I must, of course) which is probably the default parental intuition. Instead I want to teach you skills to navigate the turbulence of the world. No, the protection I as a father will offer you will not be that of a vigilante with a club, but rather that of a ship captain teaching his young apprentice. This world is for skillful interaction not sheltered cowardice, for addressing problems head-on, not shying from them. It’s for Tikkun Olam (making it better) as a member of society.
My name, Ari, in Hebrew means Lion. I’ll need to tap that power to guide you. Names mostly do remain incantations of the vocal plane, and in that they don’t matter so much. But in times of hardship and uncertainty they can take on special powers. Whatever your name ends up being my hope in this name is that it serves you in time of challenge. I love you already.
Ok time to get you into our lives. More later.