Peter pushes hard against Sara's shoulder, lurching back with wide eyes and a trail of formula down his stubby chin. He's unsteady with the sudden motion. He's still top heavy, but holds himself long enough to look around the sanctuary. He's drawn to light and this room teems with it. From the altar, the entryway, the rafters. He's a creature of wonder taking in the newness of his world wherever he goes. He puffs a short sigh and pushes out again. I'm new to fatherhood but I know that look and reach for him. I pull him to my chest and feel his wild limbs ease as he rests his head over my heart. A moment later he's asleep. The choir soothes gently through the next hymn and I say a silent prayer, thankful for this gift.
Peter isn't the only one in awe. I watch him grow as the days roll into weeks and months and marvel at the changes. He's three times the size he was when we brought him home. He smiles and coos, holding his own in conversation with Sara and me before bed. On good nights he'll sleep seven or eight hours.
The first time it happened he roused at six, ready to eat. I asked Sara what time she'd last fed him. She said she hadn't. What time had I fed him? I hadn't either. We looked in amazement at the fussing child between us. We'd heard of such things but it had actually happened. To us!
He slept through the night! I went through my day telling as many people as I could. I was Charlie Bucket waving his Golden Ticket to everyone he passed on the street.
I'm sure my coworkers are getting tired of every proud moment I relate all week long. I share pictures and videos and stories about my boy I'm sure are only fascinating or funny to me. Still, they indulge me.
So how do I respond when something doesn't fit with my boasting? What do I do when he presents me, not with an achievement, but a challenge?
Deny, deny, deny.
"Peter's doctor says he's behind in being able to hold himself up. We need to be working with him on his muscle development." Sara's text was a mild prick at my pride.
"He's fine." I immediately replied. I hadn't even thought of what that kind of progress should look like let alone that he might be behind in it. She brought it up again a few days later and my reaction was just as terse. Thankfully, Sara isn't one to back down when something is important and she pulled me out of my denial. She reminded me that as far Peter has come he still needs us to push him, to guide him when necessary. I know this will be a lifelong challenge. I just hadn't realized it would start so soon.
I think of all Peter's progress in his short few months and I am filled with awe but those milestones will become millstones if I'm not willing to face his challenges with him. Denial isn't a good look for any parent.
Sara has bible study Tuesday nights and I've got a whole evening of Daddy/Peter time. We'll eat and maybe take a short nap. I'll give him a bath and read him his (my) favorite stories. And I'll lay him on his stomach and work with him on his exercises. I'll cheer him on as he grunts, straining to work new muscles, and hold him when he's worn himself out from the effort. We'll do it together because its my job to teach him to face what life will throw at him, not ignore it. I may not always get it right but I'll keep trying.