Baby. 5 years ago today, you became my baby. If I’m being honest every time I call you that, and I hear you say the words “I’m not a baby, daddy” it breaks my heart just a little bit. Because the truth is you’re anything but A baby now, aren’t you? You’re a big girl, a little woman, a little PERSON with a BIG personality. One so big I’m not sure the world will ever be able to contain you. And I pray you’ll never let them try.
One minute you’re a princess dressing up like Anna or Elsa and singing along with all the songs from Frozen that make me cringe. The next you’re wrestling with your brother, and if you promise not to tell him I said so, I’m ninety-nine percent sure you can take him. A few hours later I see you dancing in the kitchen, playing make believe with play-doh, or running your own store in the basement with your kitchen. Your creativity and imagination are unmatched and inspirational. Then there are the days you come home from Grandma’s with your nails painted and some sparkly shoes, and I remember that there really is a a lot of “girl” inside this not so little (anymore) body, And just when I think I have you all figured out, we hop in the car for a daddy/daughter date and you ask me to listen to the Packers Podcast; because you’re “really getting into sports now,” and you want to play on your brother’s football team next season. All of that and more, wrapped up in a cute little package, that usually has a literal bow on top in your hair.
It’s a beautiful thing, because, baby, you’re a beautiful thing. I still remember the very first thing I noticed about you. Your eyes. You have the most beautiful eyes I think I’ve ever seen. When I looked into them I was literally breathless for a second thinking about how those eyes would be the same ones staring back at me through every stage of our life together. As I held you in that hospital room. As I took you to your first day of school. When I take you to the Middle School dance, and when we celebrate you getting your driver’s license. They’ll be the ones filled with tears when the first boy breaks your heart (he’s the real loser there), or when someone we both love leaves us to be with Jesus. But they’ll also be the ones, filled with excitement, that I stare into on the night we dance after I give you to the man of your dreams. They’ll be looking right at me when you tell me it’s time to sell my house and move someplace more sensible, and I hope they’ll be there with your brother’s as I take my final breath this side of heaven. They make me feel safe. They make me feel loved. They make me feel necessary, the way only being a father can – and it’s a beautiful thing. Because YOU’RE a beautiful thing.
I love how in the five years I have known you, you have gone from needing me to do just about everything for you – to the SECOND (only to your mother) most independent person I know. The way you enjoy and create a world all around yourself, whether make believe or real life, is a skill that cannot be taught. You have a perspective all your own; and I am jealous of you every day. It is my sincere and honest belief, that if everyone saw the world the way you do, with the same great BIG emotions and expressions – that all the smiles and laughter would be that much better, and the tears and all our fears would be that much more bearable. I have never once worried about if you’ll be able to “make it on your own,” because baby, you already are. This is Queen Esther’s world, and the rest of us are just living in it. And what a joy that is to do.
5 years ago, you became my baby. Your eyes, your smile, your tiny fingers wrapped around just one of mine. Today, you turn a whole hand. You let me crack two knuckles and pull ten toes. We share mooches, tickles and a squeeze. We can still wrestle on the bed, and you still hold my hand while we watch TV. I know there are days coming when we won’t get to dance in the living room in our underwear, sing together in the shower, and when you’ll be “too cool” to hold my hand anywhere but at home. You’ll go from being a little girl, into a great big beautiful woman; and perhaps then you’ll remind me EVEN MORE of your mother, although I find that hard to believe. It will be an incredible and miraculous thing; and I will celebrate every magnificent moment of it. But there’s one thing you must know, one thing that will never change. It’s the same thing I remind you every time you tell me that “you’re a big girl now,” because I never want you to forget. You will grow up, you will mature, you’ll put on make-up, go to prom, get married, and perhaps even move away (please don’t). But no matter how “big” you ever are, no matter if you’re sitting in my lap or holding me when I am old and frail. No matter what the number of your age, or the color of your hair – even when you have children of your own and I am spoiling them rotten every chance I get. You, Esther Jillian Steffen, no longer are A baby – but you will ALWAYS be, my baby.