I sometimes stare at my daughter as she types on her phone. I watch while her face changes from deep stares of focus to smiles and back to stares before she feverishly starts punching away on the keypad. Inevitably, she’ll look up and say:
Why are you staring at me?
I shrug. Sometimes I’ll say I don’t know. Other times, I’ll ask the question that is ringing in my head.
Where did that baby go?
She will stare back at me for a moment and then offer some sort of sarcastic face or noise before going back to her screen. Still, though, the question remains unanswered.
Where the hell did that baby go?
Who is this kid? There is a girl, nearly 12 years old, sitting in my house, writing words and processing emotions. She’s there. Right now. On the couch. She does her hair up in different styles and talks about Youtubers and TikTockers. Babies can’t do those things. What is going on here?
I know this because about ten years ago, there was a baby sitting on that couch. Unlike the girl with curly brown hair who sits there now, she had thin blonde hair and a bib to catch any wayward drool that spilled from her face. The smiles are the same and their faces, while different sizes, are almost the spitting image of one another.
I spent hours staring at that baby. She never questioned it though. Instead, she would study me back; looking for any weird motions that caught her attention. I would puff out my cheeks, make sounds like balloons losing air, and silly clown noises like, “Ahhhhhh…..Bump!” She would giggle when I struck a chord and it just made me search on for more weirdo dad stuff I could do.
Wherever we went, I tried to impress that baby with my daddy magic. At diners, I would take a french fry and hang it from my mouth. Then, without using my hands, I would swallow it up like a bird. She would watch as if I was David Blaine putting a needle through my face. Her eyes would grow big and her smile would grow even bigger. I lived to impress this little lady.
She was my little face. I called her that. Like Lucas, years later, I created songs about her and swung her in my arms as we sang them. As she grew up and her hair grew out, she continued to be my favorite girl on planet Earth. I kept thinking about how much I would miss that baby when she was gone, but something funny happened.
I mean, I did, but I didn’t. Does that make sense? Sure, I longed for my little face with spittle bibs, but the kid who was slowly replacing her was every bit as great as the one who was sitting there before. Every year that went by was another step forward. Every step forward was another little lady for me to love with all my heart. She wasn’t just growing, she was evolving. She was getting better every day.
I watched as everything started to happen. Her first steps, her first words, her first everything. I remember one time she needed to plug in a charger and I asked her, “Have you ever plugged something in before?” She said no. So, I took a picture of her doing it. I cherished every moment and, despite my corky dad-like questions of, “Where did this baby go”, I knew where she went. I was going along with her. I watched it happen. I celebrated every step forward.
The kid who is there today doesn’t marvel at french fries anymore or need to eat all her vegetables in ravioli form. She doesn’t watch the original Wiggles on a giant laptop, wear plastic jewelry, or sing nursery rhymes with the words all jumbled until I laugh out loud. That baby is gone.
The kid who is there now comes to find me to watch Goosebumps and The Masked Singer. She bakes cookies and goes on cleaning binges because, like her dad, she “wants things clean.” We text each other animated gifs from across the house and she makes me stop to watch her do random dances seemingly out of nowhere. She’s my best friend. I love her like no other.
She may not be impressed with the french fry trick anymore and staring into her face for hours at a time is no longer an option. The good news, though, is that I don’t have to. I don’t need to impress her anymore. That part is over. I already have. Now, she’s the one who impresses me and she does so every day of my life.
Where did that baby go? She’s right here. I never lost her. And I never will.