My daughter was chosen for this year’s Long Island String Festival Association Concert. Out of her entire school, she was the only violinist picked for this prestigious honor. She had to wear a white shirt, practice three songs, and perform them with an orchestra in front of a gigantic crowd. I was proud beyond words and watched in awe from the audience.
It wasn’t about being the best or the worst, it was about recognition of her hard work and skill. Olivia demonstrated all the techniques I’ve seen her practice this year and left the event with a sense of pride. She has really come a long way in her ability.
Which is crazy, because she’s a baby.
I mean, technically she’s not a “baby”, I guess. But, between us, she’s a baby. I’ve been around this kid since she was small enough to fit inside a shoe box. When she arrived, she was tiniest human being I’d ever seen and, although pictures tell me otherwise, she’s still that size in my mind.
I used to call her “Little Face” way back then because, well, she had a little face. It looked like someone drew cute tiny facial features on a washed-out orange. I held her like a rare book, with both hands spread open, out of fear that anything tighter would crush her instantly. That’s how small she is.
Was. That’s how small she was. Sorry. I forget.
When you’re a parent, the past, present, and future all get rolled into one. My memories of baby Olivia feel like they happened yesterday. My visions of the future all feature her looking exactly like she does today at ten, only stretched out tall as if she was pressed onto a blob of Silly Putty.
Time, though, does move on. I’ve seen it happen repeatedly over the last decade but keep waiting for the reality to truly settle in. I had the same feeling of “where’s that baby” shock when she did her first dive at Safe-T-Swim. I had it when she came screaming down a basketball court, knocked an opposing player down, and landed a textbook layup. I had it this morning when she called me a “noob” for no reason. Everything this kid does blows me away because everything this kid does is something that a kid does, not a baby. Yet, that’s what I still see when I see her. Ten-year-old baby Olivia.
You have to remember, for the few months her life, my daughter was off the grid. No one knew she existed unless we told them. Up until like a year, we could have changed her name and no one would have minded. Her existence was for us, and us alone, to rejoice in. There were no expectations from teachers or even the slightest hint that she was a real person in the real world. Her hopes and dreams centered around eating mushy cookies and spitting up. Her favorite hobby was rocking back and forth while trying to flip over.
During that time, I’d watch other people’s older children with a defiant sense of doubt. How can my little person ever learn to tie a shoe or dip her French fries in ketchup? She’s just my baby and she always will be.
That partially held true because, today, she’s my shoe-tying, ketchup-dipping baby. The lenses I view her through are exclusive to me. I’m the only one who still sees Little Face up there playing violin. To everyone else, she’s just another fifth grader plucking the strings and doing what’s expected of her.
This mindset says as much about my place in the world as it does hers. For years, I too was a kid. I listened to adults come up to me with exclamations of “Look how big you are!” Older people would remark about my size and the years that had passed since they last saw me. They remembered me when I was “yay high” and still in short pants. As a child, it’s weird to hear, but you hear it all the time. You want to grab cousin Jethro by the face and say, “That was a hundred years ago! I’m a big boy now!”
Well, now I’m cousin Jethro, standing in disbelief that my daughter experiences the passing of time like the rest of the world. I watch from the audience, though the lens of my camera and the lens of my fatherhood and can’t believe what I am seeing.
The irony is that I know this will always be how it is for me. I’m the Dad and I accept that. I’ll sit in stunned silence at her graduations and job promotions. I’ll be shocked at her achievements in life. I’ll ask in confusion how a baby could possibly have a baby of her own. No matter how old she is or how successful she becomes, my brain will always flashback to holding that Little Face in one hand and burping her with the other.
Memories like that never fade. Instead, they stay at the forefront of your mind and come out to play any time she does something a young lady might do. It makes me want to turn to all the other parents at the LISFA concert and scream, “Can you guys believe this?! My baby is playing violin with your ten year olds!”
The funny part is that most of them probably want to tell me the same thing.
This mentality keeps me proud at every turn. No matter how big or small her accomplishments may be, they all blow me away each time. I will always be beaming with pride. Whether it’s her shocking baby violin skills right now or the day she eventually takes the oath to become President Little Face, I’ll be there shaking my head and asking how a baby could do so much.