Painting Lilies of the Valley on the Ladder to Elopement
By Anthony Buccino
I want you to have the great big box of
Where did these three years go? Try to tell me, little sleepy girl. It was only yesterday we brought you home from the hospital. Your mother was worried about buying you an Easter dress. I told you in the delivery room I would paint lilies of the valley on the ladder so you could elope.
We could not get over the fact that you had red hair. The nurses made such a fuss over you. “Something about redheads,” they said.
Your mom said that when you looked around and wrinkled your face, you looked exactly like me. Does that mean you were exceptionally lucky or that I look like a baby with gas and a wrinkled face? I will have to ask her.
I had always heard about redheads’ tempers, maybe from watching too many “Lucy” shows. I don’t know. Your strong will became evident immediately when we got you home. You wrapped us around your tiny fingers so quickly that we did not catch on for quite a while. Your mother and I endured your fussy times so we could live for your giggles. For such a small child, you certainly changed the lives of many grown-ups.
Being your daddy is the greatest challenge of my life. You being you is the greatest reward. Let me give you enough freedom to smell the roses and enough guidance to keep you from getting scarred by the thorns.
Many of the best things about having a child in the house are things daddies never tell their children, or anyone else for that matter. But I am going to tell you now, because, even asleep, you look like me.
Your daddy really enjoys playing with you and all your toys. When we go into a toy store, daddy wants to buy you everything. I do not. I cannot, but I sure would do it in a flash if I could.
I want you to have the great big box of crayons, the ones with the sharpener built right in to the box. Before you get married, I will surprise you with it.
It is fun for me to help you play with your Play-Doh. I like to help you make spaghetti and meatballs, and to take your orders for hamburgers. The best part of your little Fun Factory is that you are too little to push the Play-Doh through the shape maker. I am the one you call to help. Not your mother, me. You make me feel so special when you ask for my help. Don’t ever forget that.
I cannot explain how I feel when you show me how much you need me. I feel like the strongest man in the world. And at the same time, I am the loneliest. I know that someday, someone will steal your heart and you’ll be gone, gone like the wind.
If that is not the hardest mile for your father to walk, Andrea, I do not know if there IS one.
I was there in the delivery room when you were born. Maybe that is why I feel so much closer to you than I have ever felt to anyone. I helped your mother to breathe, as they say. I drove her crazy, she says. She was grimacing with your contractions while I sat there tapping on the bed bar looking forward to lunch.
“How long was that contraction?” She asked.
“I don’t know,” I answered. “Do you think you’ll have this baby before lunch? I’m getting hungry.”
“You are supposed to be timing my contractions! That’s what you’re here for!” She was not in the mood for idle banter. “If you were doing your job, I could tell you when I’d have this baby!”
Andrea, you should remember to thank your mom, she gave up a whole night’s sleep just to have you. I bet she’ll tell you it was worth it, but you might as well thank her the first chance you get.
I remember after you were born, I went out into the lobby to phone your new grandparents to tell them about you. I met a man there and asked him if someone he knew was having a baby.
“My wife.” He said.
“I was in there when my wife gave birth to my daughter.” I said. “Man, it was the greatest experience in the world!” I guess I should have left well enough alone, but I added. “You are missing the most important time in your baby’s life.”
I could not stop bubbling about how great you were, how healthy, and how alert. I finally did call and talk to your two grandmas to tell them the good news. It made their day.
One thing I have to tell you is that you have an edge on your old man. You have endless energy. Maybe I would too, if I did nothing all day and took an afternoon nap. Your mom and I wish we could bottle your energy. We could really make a fortune. I know there are lots of times when your mom and I would settle for just a taste, just enough to keep up with you for a little while longer.
Your edge flows over to your brilliance. What a strange word for your daddy to use, but it fits. You have grown up so much faster than I. Your old man never had Sesame Street to teach him the alphabet. I had to learn it the hard way, in kindergarten. By the time you get to kindergarten, you will be smarter than your old man was in second grade.
I call that brilliance, even if I am your father. Even now, at three years old, you stun your mother and me with your precocious perceptions. It gets harder and harder to fool you, even when it is for your own good.
You should also lighten up on the pepperoni pizzas. It is all right for mommy and daddy to pig out on them, but you have a lot of formative years ahead of you. I hope you don’t want to grow up to be a pizza pie! The world is at your fingertips.
You can be anything you want to be. Almost every barrier has been broken down for you to make your own way. You can be a nurse, a secretary, a supervisor, a manager, a woman dressed as a man (God help me!), an air traffic controller, symphony conductor, or president of the United States. You would probably be better off as president of, say, General Motors or General Mills, they both make more money than the president of the country.
If I ever teach you one thing, sweetheart, it is that money is not the most important thing in your life. If you live for money, you will die for money. You should strive to be the best at something you enjoy whether that is as a housewife, or an artist, or a brain surgeon, or a novelist. Remember to always work to be able to do something you really want to do. It will make all the difference in the world.
Adapted from: A FATHER'S PLACE An eclectic collection By Anthony Buccino
Essays, photography, military history, more
New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards.
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