Thursday, January 5, 2012
Kara and James
This is a picture of pregnant Kara. She was radiant.
Kara worries a lot. She worries about things that would never even appear on my radar, like matching clothes and ottoman throws. She worries about people more than I do. I am often more selfish, more indulgent to put it mildly. I don't usually worry, I tend to assume that everything will work out in the end, one way or another. Kara once found a flight to Germany on the cheap over spring break when I was in law school- nestled perfectly between exams and deadlines that demanded my full attention. She thought it might be fun. I decided, somewhat whimsically, that we should go to Germany. I responded in what might be described as a typically Matthew way- somewhat impulsively but decisively. I tracked down the flight, compared alternatives, and within a week or two was mercilessly scouring travel sites for the trip we’d be taking to Germany over springbreak, law school or no, and regardless of the fact that we couldn’t actually afford it then. I am more easily distracted, and much less practical. She is more grounded, more level headed, and a thousand times more practical. We go to test drive a car and I buy it then and there, provided I walk away with what my research and I consider a "win." Kara would never do that.
All of this is to say that Kara and I are complete opposites, in almost every way. Our approach to parenting was no different. I will freely admit that I was terrified of becoming a father. Anxious, excited, yes, but also deeply terrified. While I love my father dearly and admire him, when I was young we were never really close. We simply didn’t have a lot in common. In terms of temperament, we were never anything alike. When I was younger I was often difficult, broody and introspective with a quick temper. My father is gregarious and quick to make friends. If he wanted to talk baseball, I wanted to talk history or politics. If he wanted us to play golf together, I quit playing on general principle. When we learned Kara was pregnant, I hoped for a girl, because I wasn't sure I knew how to foster a good father-son bond. Kara was the only person who thought it would be a boy- and as always, Kara was right.
Especially during the first few months of James’ life, I found it hard to adjust to fatherhood. I had no idea what to do. I loved James with all of my heart, but I made a lot of very poor decisions. I struggled with my role, with how to act and what to do. If it had been up to me alone, James probably wouldn't have done so well. But it wasn’t. James had Kara too. He had her calming, steady presence to look after him. And she did. Kara mentioned once that she never spent more than a few hours away from James. That was not the case with me. I spent days and days away from James. I have many regrets. More than once I told myself that if I missed x, y, or z it would be fine- I had a lifetime to make up for it. I was wrong, in every possible way.
I got better. It took a while to sink in, but fatherhood grew on me. My fears ebbed and I grew into my role. I embraced it as mine, not anyone else’s, and did the best I could. I came to realize I didn't need to be anyone's vision of a father, just James'. James and I developed our own rapport of actions and habits apart from Kara. Games like boom goes the baby, where I’d send him soaring higher into the air than his mother would ever allow. He was a huge fan of my swing pushing style. We had our own collection of nicknames and vocabulary. I called him little son. I'm not very original. We got to know each other better. Eventually, it became impossible for Kara and I both to imagine what our lives would have been like any other way, with a daughter or with any baby but James, with all of his unique quirks and characteristics. Even when he got sick, I always resented people who in passing would treat him and other babies as if they were interchangeable, from absent minded respiratory therapists insisting they "always" do this to the lazier general (not neuro)anesthesiology nurse who failed to notice the sex of the child she was about to operate on. People often forget that even at eight months old, a baby is more than that- each is a person, slowly acquiring the traits that will define them.
Kara was instinctively and naturally brilliant with James. A love poured from her for him that was a privilege to see. Her precious baby boy, from the first moment in the hospital when I held him against her chest. She knew to do all the little things that I did not, and performed them flawlessly. I learned a lot from her example.
When James became ill, Kara led by example. No crying in James' room, bright faces and games for Jamesie. Our disparate styles became an advantage, as each of us processed the information in our own way, so that we could inform the other. Our perspectives often differed, but they informed one another. We learned from each other, and because we were different, we were able to be strong at different times, which often translated into the right times. We could lean on each other, so that both of us could be there for James. We were finally fully functional. And none of it would have happened without Kara, indeed, most of the best and most perfect moments of James’ life are impossible to imagine without Kara.
There is no one on this Earth with whom I would have preferred to go through that with. And there is no one who could have endured it so perfectly. Kara is, by any definition of the word, a fantastic mother. I truly believe that God chose her to be James’ mother because he knew how extraordinary a mother James would need, and he knew that Kara could provide that to him. I am grateful for that, and much more.