“You’re too late,” my grandmother announced as she met him in the lobby. My father had arrived an hour late for the birth of my sister. She was already clean and named by the time he entered the hospital’s double doors. He barely said hello to my mother as he stormed toward her hospital bed.
Where is she? He exclaimed. My mother grabbed her robe and shook her head as fast as windshield wipers. My father’s brown fingers grabbed at her beige palm. Her heart also found his as he professed his love in the deepest baritone. Besides after several years of marriage, she was used to his tornado. The way he swirled about when he was excited. He was often the shortest man in the room, but his personality swarmed just enough to grab the attention of everyone present. Especially since his confidence was always greater than his stature.
“The room just got smaller,” my grandmother barked as she headed toward the window. “Are you going to take him to see her or not?” My mother nodded, stood, and steadied herself on her legs. Then she secured the belt on her bathrobe and headed toward the door. My mother had wanted a daughter her entire life, and now the moment had arrived. She had grown up the youngest child of three, and her two older brothers often left her behind. Picking up their baseballs and putting down their toilet seats only intensified her desire to be around girls. So by the time she left home, she had decided that having a daughter was much better than having a sister.
The walk to the nursery took more time than it should have as my mother shared every detail of the birth with my father. She informed him that her pain was more intense than she could’ve ever imagined, but the doctor who cared for her was as kind as most of the nurses. She filled him in on almost every detail of the most beautiful girl she had ever seen, who had perfect ten fingers and toes. As a result, when they rounded the corner to the nursery, my father was beaming. He could see the glass that held all the beautiful babies, and before my mother could identify which girl was his, he stopped her mid-sentence. “I know exactly which baby is mine,” he declared.
My father took his time glancing at every single newborn girl. Eventually, his furrow turned to a wide-toothed grin as he picked out the baby that most resembled his skin tone. He stuck out his chest, wagged his finger, and shot my grandmother a glance that she wouldn’t soon let him forget. Eager to celebrate, he pulled a cigar from his lapel and winked at my mother. “She’s perfect,” he exclaimed.
“That’s the wrong baby,” my grandmother howled, barely able to keep a poker face. Straightaway, she looked into my father’s eyes as tears of laughter poured from hers. My mother joined her in laughter as they pointed to the correct child. A beautiful girl who looked nothing like he thought she would: a child whose appearance startled him and his entire family. My grandmother glided past him and headed back toward the hospital room, cementing something she had learned long ago. “Parenting is always full of surprises.”
Like my father, I had to learn this lesson the hard way. Trying to shape my child’s into the version that looked most like me failed miserably. As a toddler, I dressed my daughter like my twin. I was the parent of an elementary school kid that selected room decor that I liked. As the mother of a middle schooler, my child’s television queue was full of television shows I chose. It wasn’t until she reached high school that I finally gave up. And she surprised me.
My daughter showed me a world that I would have never seen. Her strong and opinionated voice was loud with things I needed to hear. My child’s deep brown eyes targeted the things I should see. Her giving hands showed me lives that needed to be touched. A timely and bubbly sense of humor always encouraged me to find laughter in almost any situation. It took me too long to realize that as a parent I was in the wrong. My daughter was different, decisive, and utterly divine. She was perfect. Perfect for me. Parenting is full of surprises, and as I reflect on her twenty-first birthday, I am so glad my father God didn’t pick the wrong baby. He knew exactly which baby was mine. And for that, I am forever grateful.
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