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Ode to a Rookie Dad


My mother will turn eighty this summer and whenever we’re together, I try to tell stories about what it was like growing up. It’s good for my mom and it’s important for the girls to hear that it was alternately tough and terrific being a kid – even some forty years ago.

“Remember when I accidentally squirted mustard all over my uniform skirt and you made me wear it to school anyway?” No, okay. “How about when we did those patriotic songs at the hospital during the bicentennial?” That doesn’t ring a bell either? It’s fine, I think, that she can’t place these tidbits from my childhood that stand out so vividly. It doesn’t change the fact that they happened, right?

And then a few weeks ago, my youngest daughter commented on the running style of a neighbor. The little girl’s arms flailed wildly in circles as she tried to catch up with her friend. “Look, she’s doing the windmill,” Lindsey said, giggling. “Remember how you used to call it the windmill?” Scanning. Scanning. Uh-oh! Was it Lindsey who did the windmill, or one of her sisters? Scanning. Scanning. A complete blank now. Not a single windmill memory to be found. I issued the fake laugh – you know the one – and tried to change the subject, but she was having none of it. “You don’t remember the windmill, do you Mommy?” The giggles were gone now. “You know, maybe you should write some of this stuff down.”

Oh, I did that, and we have a trio of baby books to show for it. Each journal has touching and telling notes scrawled yearbook-style in freehand. Like one of Sam’s early entries: “You’re princess hiccup! Every belly laugh ends with them.” And Robin’s first trip to DC: “A capital napper! Slept through two Smithsonians.” Ironic, considering the museums rank among her favorite places to be nowadays. There’s even a note in Lindsey’s book that foretold her song-writing skills: “Was that Play-Doh, Play-Doh Little Star I just heard coming from the crib?”

These notes from young mom to future family chronicled the little one’s first words, beloved toys, and charming antics, but not a single mention of us parents. Baby did this. Baby did that. What about Mom? And June is the month for fathers. What about Dad? I’ll leave it to the women children to get today’s highlights down for posterity, but when these guys were babies, I was the only witness. And as the years rush by, I worry that some memories will slip into obscurity, right alongside the infamous windmill. So alas, here are a few dad-isms that will not be forgotten:

How awesome you were as a labor and delivery coach. In fact, Nurse Jackie actually commented that she wanted to hire you back to work with first-timers. You made her job that much easier.

How quickly you could change a newborn’s diaper, and how adept you were at it  – especially with your big dad hands. And let’s not forget that you had never really held a baby for more than a few minutes before we started making them.

How you took each baby on a tour of the house when we first came home from the hospital. “This is your home now…” I remember you whispering sweetly to each new girl as you walked from room to room, and I made my way to the couch to sit down.

How you gave Sam her first real bath on the kitchen counter, using the sink spray-hose for the rinse cycle. This was also about the time her precious lamb-like newborn cry was transforming into a full-throttle real baby cry.

How you signed us up for the Dr. Seuss book-of-the-month club when I was only three months pregnant. You filled in TBD next to “child’s name” and for the next year, we opened books addressed to Ted Schwartzkopf.

How you kept Sam at home with you while you were starting a business, so I could go back to work, and we could put off using childcare. And I can’t remember you ever complaining about it, or wanting it any other way. You even bought her a white polo shirt onesie so you two could have matching work attire.

And finally, how, just minutes after giving birth to our new baby girl, when I was covered in sweat and had broken every blood vessel in my face from pushing a tiny human out of my body, you looked into my bloodshot eyes and first said, “You are my hero!” Followed by, “You are the most beautiful woman in the world!” And I believed you.


Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family, including husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director. You can read Karen’s take on parenting her three daughters – Sam, Robin, and Lindsey, also known as the women-children – in the Editor’s Voice.
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