Just in Time: A Baby Girl

It seems like yesterday I had the day to myself. Time stopped for me.

Living in a cottage on a horse farm in New Hampshire, I would inch out of bed at sunrise, boil a pot of tea and lope to a backyard screen house where I’d slowly read just about every page of the New York Times as the sun crawled across its arc. If motivated, I’d flop the top half of the paper down my chest to study the horses’ movements or wave to a neighbor walking yards away on the main road.

Purgatory Falls Farm

Now, I’m lucky if I have enough time to scan the back of a cereal box. I’m a new father living in a Boston suburb.

No more napping, with a book in my lap, to the sound of neighing and trotting hooves. I lie awake waiting for cooing and the patter of feet on a crib mattress — a soft symphony that crescendos to a cacophonous barrage of kicking and screaming.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my five month old daughter. Each day has brought a priceless illustration of the grace of life: her maturation, sense of discovery and award-winning smile.

Still, until recently I had trouble adjusting to the demands of this Father Time crank. How did he get my new address?

I love to read and write, and have spent most of my life hidden behind books or hunched over paper and computer screens. But now I can only dream of reading and writing. (Most men fantasize about sports cars and supermodels. I delight in visualizing deft turns of phrases and the curve of a book’s spine.)

For months after my daughter’s birth, I wondered why I couldn’t simultaneously enjoy her, have a career and pursue my love of the written word. Preening supermoms land on the cover of Time for juggling, but I struggled to keep a few balls in the air.

Finally, like smelling salts, the persistent snap of early-morning diaper changes helped me understand hero capes don’t come in all sizes. I realized I can’t do it all. I have to sacrifice. (Maybe this new perspective came after I slammed my head on a low-hanging ceiling as I rushed downstairs to make a bottle of formula.)

I recognized rare moments of freedom will be hard earned, forcing me to make the most of them. If waking up at 5 a.m. guarantees an hour of peace to write, I won’t hit the snooze button. If anything, short spells of solitude require focus and purpose, and will probably sharpen my writing and make me a judicious reader.

In hindsight, I didn’t deserve 16-hour Sundays. Many of those spare days led to laziness and a false sense of productivity. Idle thoughts about Proust segued to casual research about Paris and then a studied Web review of French actresses.

Even if I can’t read a book for another seven years, I won’t complain. I’m raising a little bean of joy that surely no creative mind could justly imagine. The miracle I’ve long sought in literature stares at me each day, smiling widely and making sounds that only I can understand.

My Pulitzer Prize
My Pulitzer Prize

Published Dec. 3, 2012

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