A Journal for Those Stuck at Home

Why the First Time for Everything Still Matters

Just a few months ago my son, Sevan, started walking. Out of the blue, with no warning, he just let go of my leg and walked across the room. Then he fell on his ass. He pulled himself up again and walked back toward me. I think my jaw actually hit the floor. The event was filmed, marveled over, and even cried over. It was an emotional first for me and my partner, Lara.

Back in the day, when I was a regular human being — before I had become “dada” or “baba” — I went through life, only sometimes noting my firsts – my first successful attempt riding a bicycle with the help of my father’s loving yet firmly shoving hands, my first kiss (Karen J., in grade 10 on Mt. Pleasant Avenue, waiting for the light to change. Thank you, red light), my first heartbreak (it’s ok, Karen, I forgive you), and my first job (bussing tables at Bregman’s on Yonge Street).

Then, after university, life got busy. Suddenly, I wasn’t just dropping in on friends to listen to music or to shoot the shit. Spontaneity was slowly being edged out by routine.   I was trying to get my writing and photography career off the ground, managing a series of relationships (I was a serial monogamist), and trying to get as much travel in as possible. Without even realizing it, I stopped paying attention to first and even last experiences.

Then came the first first with Sevan, as he made his debut in pictures during a hospital ultrasound, when we learned that Lara was seven weeks pregnant. The first of many portraits of the peanut!

In the 20 months since his arrival, the world has become littered with firsts – so many that I’m literally tripping over them. The first time I felt him kick was pretty cool, but actually seeing his limbs pushing up against Lara’s stomach was a whole other first.

There are, of course, those great firsts like the first time he really fixed his gaze on our faces, the first time he smiled, his first word, and, blissfully, his first full night’s sleep.

Then there are the scary firsts: his first fever, the first big fall (off the bed onto his head – I still shudder), and the first time he choked (did I really know how to perform the infant Heimlich maneuver?).

So I was talking about all my enthusiastic firsts with my friend Mike, who has two kids, when he cut in. “But then there are all those other firsts,” he warned. I braced myself. “Man, like the first time your kid lies right to your face…” I cringed. “…The first time you find them Googling ‘boobs…’” I laughed. Back in my day, we looked at National Geographic. “Then there’s the first time they steal from you…”

Stttttoppppppppp! Sevan is still too young and tender for me to think about all the bad stuff.  Still, I know those firsts are around the corner. I’ve already experienced the feeling of shame for my son’s behaviour, apologizing on his behalf, as I handed out earplugs to the neighbours in our apartment building. The boy has got lungs!

So are firsts really worth noting? I think so. Firsts are milestones that help us slow down and appreciate where we are in the moment, especially when life sometimes feels like a blur. As a parent, our children’s development happens at the speed of light, relatively speaking. We need to hit the pause button once in a while to soak it all in.

Thankfully, I’m beginning to take more time to appreciate new firsts in my non-parental activities, too. Finishing my first half-marathon this year made the seemingly impossible, possible – just by training wisely toward my goal. That’s why, when I learned about the Whistler Meet Your Maker 80 kilometre cross-country race set for next September, I immediately thought, “If I prepare properly, I can possibly-maybe complete this thing.” Firsts are good teachers, reminding us how limits are often self-made. After all, the mental fences we place around ourselves can be taken as a challenge to climb over them. It’s up to us to dream bigger and live bigger.

There’s something beautiful about  witnessing infants doing something for the first time, because they aren’t always even aware of the breakthrough moment. They haven’t consciously limited what they think they can or can’t do – it’s just that it takes time for their bodies and minds to get wired up so they can put it all together.  And perhaps give us a photo op or two.

Already, Sevan’s first walk is both an indelible moment and a fading memory. Chasing him from room to room, I forget that just a few short months ago the little dude was a mere crawler and cruiser, with no inkling that a jog in the park was just around the corner.