I once read a quote saying “the smartest we’ll ever be is when we’re born.” Shockingly, the point isn’t that our babies have some innate knowledge they slowly lose. No, the point was simply this: what they realize they don’t know is so small.
Collins first “drop” in knowledge came with her first breath, this weird need to fill her lungs. Of course the crying ensues right after. And then there’s the temperature, as it’s not the balmy 98.6 and humid it had been.
And with every moment, as her knowledge grows, so do all those terrible things she now doesn’t know. I guess it’s a ratio thing, the frisson between knowing and not.
I noticed it first with hunger. Imagine—she’d never known hunger before. She never had to eat; it was just there. Now, in the moments after birth, she slowly crawls to her mother’s breast, knowledge of this new need growing slowly—and so strong—within her. The reality of sudden change settles on her, she discovers her first taste of food, and this weird need for sustenance just continues to grow.
It’s enough to make Kierkegaard blush.
Watching Collins learn and know is one of the things I never, ever expected. You can actually see it happening, as her eyes adjust to distance, as faces become clear, as she realizes that rough, prickly feeling on her cheek is my beard, kissing her, that view is Mom walking away, which means she’s not here and what if she’s needed?
It’s existential terror, writ cute on my beautiful daughter’s face.
I want a smart child (and she is), and I want her innocence intact. Does that work? Can’t her knowledge be whole and somehow not terrifying? But, I know it will be. She’s working against too much DNA to avoid that. Her face constantly changes, as she sees what could be against what is. It’s nearly too much for a delicate Dad to imagine.
This is rambling. It’s a slow way of saying that my daughter grows and grows, develops, changes, and I’m not ready.
I’m not ready for her to realize she can’t find her favorite toy (or even have a favorite toy); I’m not ready to explain that the images she sees when she closes her eyes—just bright spots left behind from sun and light—really aren’t monsters.
So, as a note to my little existential philosopher in diapers, I know you’re scared. You’re not sure why I leave in the morning and why Mom sometimes disappears for a few minutes, then comes back and her hair is wet (we need to shower, girl, really!).
I’m not sure there’s a point here. Except that I see you when you’re scared, I see you when circumstances don’t add up right, when your experience can’t match reality. I see you cry and wonder and then, suddenly, brightly, add it all up in your head and line this newest moment up with the past.
And then you smile. And then my existential terror subsides.