Athena, Ten

As has been our tradition here in the Scalzi household, we woke Athena up on her birthday today by singing “Happy Birthday” and presenting her a cake. It’s a holdover from when she was much younger and didn’t actually have an idea when her birthday was, so the way she would find out would be to wake to her parents singing off-key and shoving a flaming baked good in her face. She’s ten now, which means she’s pretty well figured out the whole birthday date thing, but we figure it’s still a fun way to wake up on your birthday, so here we are.

Anyone who has a child understands what I mean when I say that it doesn’t feel like it’s been ten years, but it has been, and in each of those years I’ve felt additionally blessed to spend time with the person my daughter is becoming, because she’s smart and funny and headstrong, and even when she’s being a butthead there’s a lot there I admire (not so much that I don’t want to strangle her sometimes, but still). I believe the universe has provided me with exactly the child I should have been provided, which is an example of the universe being both impossibly generous, and possessed of a wicked sense of humor.

Athena is at an age where I were to get unduly mushy about how lucky I am to have her as my child, she would become horribly and unduly embarrassed, so I will go ahead and leave off it for now. However, I do happen to have a letter I wrote to her the day after she was born, which encapsulated what I was thinking about her then, and still do. I’m including it here behind the cut.

Happy Birthday, Athena. I love you.


Christmas Eve, 1998

Dear Athena:

When you were born, God decided that it should snow. Not much, just enough to cover the ground with a powdery white crust that terrified drivers. Snow! They said. I better drive five miles an hour! And they did, somehow still managing to tip their minivans and sport utility vehicles into light poles, highway medians, mail boxes, and each other. It took me the better part of an hour to drive the five miles home from the hospital in which you were born, watching grown men and women slip and slide in their vehicles in front of me. I of course, drove perfectly. As you grow, Athena, you will discover that I do everything perfectly. Do not listen to those who would tell you your dad is a raging doofus. They are sad, sad people, even though most of them are among my best of friends.

You can’t blame most of those people for being upset with the snow on the ground, Athena. They didn’t know what it meant. You see, when you were born, the world was changed, permanently, forever. One minute you were not in this world, the next you were. This was a momentus occassion, one that should have been marked. God, being God, decided to note it in the appropriate way: Changing the world. One minute there was no snow on the ground, the next there was (well, technically, it accumulated. But it did so while your mother was laboring to bring you into this world. By the time you arrived, it covered as far as the eye could see).

I think God’s choice was an appropriate one. Sure, he could have gone and done something flashy. Like a star in the sky. But he’s already done that. And by all reports you have to actually be a blood relation for Him to make that sort of effort. But the snow was right: It was the first snow of the season, so it was new. It doesn’t snow here often, so it was unusual, remarkable. There was just a little, so it was fragile. And as it blanketed the ground to the edges of the horizon, it was beautiful. It made everything else beautiful. It was, in short, like you.

You were not pleased to be brought into this world, Athena. From the moment you hit the air, you loudly complained to everyone in earshot. Hey, you said. I was comfortable in there! No one told me about this. I was not consulted. I was pleased to hear it. Both sides of your family tree have a strong sense of self, Athena, that is frequently confused with stubbornness. Your displeasure about being out of the loop on this whole birth thing is a good indication that the family traits are well in evidence. It won’t make raising you easy, I’m sure. But it will make it interesting, which, in the end, is a better state of affairs.

Besides, Athena, take it from me: It’s really not such a bad place. Yes, yes, it has wars, and hunger, and pain, and bad TV. But that’s why you have parents. We’re going to do what we can to protect you from those things (ironically, it’ll be the bad TV that’s going to be the hardest to save you from. If I’m lucky, the first you’ll hear of the Teletubbies, Barney and Rugrats will be when you’re a teenager). But it’s also a place where wonderful things can and do happen, best evidenced by your own birth. I think you’ll be happy here. We’re going to try to make you happy.

Athena, I’m just rambling. It’s been less than a full day since your birth, and still my emotions are so jumbled I hardly know what to do with myself. Writing is how I try to sort them out, but they’re resisting. All I feel, all I have felt since you’ve been born, is an enduring sense of joy. After you were born, the nurses wisked you to your birthing station, where they did the things they had to do: Put air in your face so you would pink up (you were born a rather striking shade of magenta), put the band on you so you wouldn’t be confused with one of the five other babies who shared your birthday, inked your feet for footprints, and so on. After they were done with that, they wrapped you tight in three blankets (which prompted me to turn to your mother and say, Congratulations, you’ve given birth to a burrito). And then you were handed to me.

Oh, Athena. Words don’t come for what I felt then. Here you were. Here you are — my daughter, the work of mine and your mother’s conjoined souls. All I could do was cry, cry and hold my head against your mother’s hand. It was overwhelming. It still is. I try to find the words that express everything I felt — that I am feeling, even as I write this — and I fail. I fail spectacularly. It doesn’t translate in the world of words. None fit. Except for these: Athena Marie. Your name. And the word: Welcome.

Welcome, Athena. Welcome to this world, to our home, to our love. Welcome to everything. Your mother and I are so happy to see you. We’re so happy. I thank God and your mother for you. The snow on the ground only told us what we already knew: Everything is changed. Welcome Athena. Welcome.


74 Comments on “Athena, Ten”

  1. I watched my husband go through the same feelings when our daughter was born (also in December). I think it’s different for Mom’s. We have this little being all to ourselves, tucked safe and warm inside us, and then we have to give them up a little, and share them with the rest of the world.

    Happy Birthday Athena, May your day be blessed.

  2. Happy birthday to a fellow Capricorn! (Although I happen to prefer my birthday being after the big consumerist holiday, ’cause people can buy me lots of presents on sale.)

    I have to say, she appears to be a lucky kid, and you appear to be a lucky dad. Congrats to you as well.

  3. Happy Birthday, Athena, from another of those people who you’ve never met but who feels they sorta kinda know you a little bit because they read all the stuff your dad writes about you.

  4. changterhune – Before you hear lies from Chang Terhune himself, we thought we’d tell you the truth: without us, his old action figures, he’d be nowhere. He loved science fiction from way back and began reading it at an early age, but it was through us that he acted it all out. That’s what led to the writing. He watched a lot of science fiction shows like Star Trek, U.F.O, and movies, too. But we were always there to do his bidding. And it’s like they say: you always forget about the little people on your way up. Oh, the 70’s and early 80’s with him were good times! He’d use these blocks and make all the crazy buildings for us to be in his stories. I gotta say the kid’s imagination was pretty damn fertile. Oh, he had friends, but they just weren’t into it like him. He was like the Lance Armstrong of action figures. And of science fiction. At first, when he began writing in the eighth grade, we didn’t mind. He still made time for us. And we knew that when he was holding us in his sweaty little hands and he got that far off look in his eye, he’d come back to burying us in the back yard or - god forbid! – blowing us up with firecrackers. But it was worth it for a part in one of those stories. We loved him for it. He kept us around even when we were minus a leg or two - or even a head. In that mind of his, he found a use for all of us. Then he discovered girls. October, 1986. It was like the end of the world. One day we’re standing in the middle of this building block creation he’d pretended was some marble city on a planet near Alpha Centauri and the next we were stuck in a box in the closet. Not even a “See ya later!” Nope, it was into the closet, then we heard some high-pitched girly-giggles then silence. We didn’t see him for years. We got word about him once in a while. Heard he took up writing, but it was crap like “The Breakfast Club” only with better music. We couldn’t believe it. Not Charlie. What happened to those aliens with heads he’d sculpted out of wax? Spaceships? Those complex plots? All gone. For what? You guessed it: Girls. Emotions. “Serious fiction.” I tell you, it was like hearing Elvis had left the building. During our two decade exile in the closet, we heard other things about him. He went to college. He wrote a lot, but not much he really liked. We knew it even then. It was like he didn’t dare write science fiction. Some of us had lost hope and just lay there. Others kept vigil, hoping for a day we didn’t dare speak about. Then we heard he’d stopped writing in 1996. Did he come to reclaim us? No. He took up music for ten years or so. He took up yoga. Once in a while, he’d visit us in the closet. But it was half-hearted. His mind was elsewhere. Then one day, he really did come back for us. One second we’re in the dark and the next thing we know we’re in a car headed for Massachusetts. Suddenly we got a whole shelf to ourselves out in broad daylight! Then he bought a bunch of others form some planet called Ebay. He’d just sit and stare at us with that old look. But why were we suddenly back in the picture? He had a wife now, who didn’t mind that he played with us. So what had happened? Turns out he’d never forgotten about those stories. He’d been thinking about all of us and the stories he’d made up and then remembered he’d been a writer once. From the shelf we could see him typing away. Before long he’s got a whole novel together! Then he’s working on another one. Word is there are two more in the planning stages! Some short stories, too! It’s good to see him using his imagination again. Its good to know he never abandoned us. He returned to his true love of science fiction. We hear the stories are pretty good. Someday we’ll get one of the cats to score us a copy of the manuscript. Man, it’s good to be out of the damn closet! --- I'm smarter than you I'm harder than you I'm better than you I'm just raw I'm hotter than you More popular than you More clever than you And goshdarn it, people like me I'm smarter than you I'm harder than you I'm better than you I'm just raw I'm hotter than you More popular than you More clever than you And goshdarn it, people like me

    Damn it I’m tearing up without even reading it. What a lucky kid!

    Happy Birthday, Athena!

  5. I think Athena’s pretty lucky to have a dad who can talk openly about how much he loves her, even if it does mean being mushy on occasion. Also: OMG, she looks *so much* like her mother.

    Have a great birthday, Athena.

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    Wow, John. That’s some powerful writing. Would that I’d had the foresight to put something to paper when my sons were born — not that it would have come out nearly as eloquent as what you wrote to Athena.

    Happy birthday, Athena. The world was indeed changed when you came into it, and now it’s yours to do with what you will. Go get ’em, kiddo. They won’t know what hit them.

  7. Related amusements:

    which prompted me to turn to your mother and say, Congratulations, you’ve given birth to a burrito)

    Found over on boing boing, a police blotter clipping that said:

    Wal-Mart: Police receive a report of a newborn infant found in a trash can. Upon investigation, officers discover it was only a burrito.

  8. Erbo – Second Life Resident, EVE Online capsuleer, virtual community maven, software engineer, computer geek, SF fan, conservative, cat lover. Also, The Game.

    Boy, Athena, it must just suck to have a birthday this close to Christmas, huh? My two youngest brothers were born around this time, too (one December 14, the other January 1), and I imagine they knew how you feel.

    Happy birthday, from another one of those weirdo Internet people that met your dad once at a Worldcon. :-)

  9. Happy Birthday, Athena!
    From someone who shares the wretched day-before-christmas-birthday. Do not, under no circumstance, let them cheat you by giving you only one present for your birthday AND Christmas ;) You let them get away with it once… and they’ll try every year.

  10. I met Athena one time (the first time I met John in person, actually.)

    I had one of the Book of the Dumb volumes, freshly signed, and was listening to John’s talk when Athena said to me, “I’m in this book.”

    I said, “Your dad talks about you all the time. You’re too smart to be in this book.”

    To show you that Athena is smarter than most adults, when I got home, I realized she meant the dedication.

    Just going to prove that college dropout is not necessarily smarter than a kindergartener. (Wow! Has it been that long?)

  11. A happy birthday to Athena.

    And John, I think you and your wife are doing a bang up job. Any kid who can chant “LEFT 4 DEAD!” at high volume at a dinner table makes me realize that not all is lost in the world. When the inevitable zombie apocalypse comes, I want her on my side. Preferably with a shotgun.

  12. Happy Birthday Athena!! May you always have an interesting life and always make life interesting for your parents ;-)

    ScalziDad… doode, we gotta talk. This is the second time something you’ve written has made me cry. It’s heading toward trend from anomaly. Worse yet, I’m at work, so throwing my computer monitor across the room and yelling at you would be both awkward and fiscally irresponsible. And probably another descriptor I can’t access at the moment because my brain is in tech-writing mode.

  13. My wife Annie is expecting any day now, so this post hit me right in my heartstrings.

    I feel this build up of love and tears just waiting to hold her (we think, it’s a girl). I’m glad you couldn’t put it in words, John, because I want the moment to wash over me without expectation. I hope that I won’t be able to put it into words either.

    (Eyes welling…chest tight) Gotta go. I’m having trouble breathing.

  14. Happy Birthday, Athena!

    Erbo @ 16: My favorite “Christmas birthday” story is the one about Robert Louis Stevenson formally transferring his own birthday to a young friend of his who had complained about HER birthday being on Christmas day. I’ve never heard whether or not her family went along with it–I sort of doubt it–but it’s always seemed like a charming thing to do.

  15. Happy Birthday, Athena.

    Kelsey@23: Congratulations. No words, indeed. But just wait until you get the baby home, lay her down, step back to gaze at her, and only then fully realize she’s there to stay for a while. That’s a feeling that’s hard to describe. o.O

  16. Natalie – Delaware – I write about books and culture and whatever else strikes my fancy. I have so many opinions. I was a finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo in 2017.
    Natalie L.

    Happy birthday, Athena!

  17. Happy Birthday, Athena!

    You’re very lucky to have been assigned the father you have!

    And nowhere near as lucky as he is the other way around!!

    Have a wonderful wonderful year!


  18. Dawwwww.

    And the classic 1st birthday cake photo. Where we learn that small children absorb food thru their skin. Truefacts!

    Happy Birthday Athena!

  19. Happy Birthday, Athena! I hope you got a lot of wicked awesome stuff. :)

    Play those video games to your heart’s content!

  20. Hurrah, John and Krissy, all data shows you’ve done it right.

    I’m a fairly emotional fellow, but I held it together pretty well for about the first four hours after my first was born. Then I was holding him and my wife asked how I was doing. I said, “I didn’t know I could love anything this much” and proceeded to cry for ten minutes. And now, here, again, typing that.

  21. ytimynona – FLORIDA – I'm a big wannabe. Wannabe a truck driver, PotUS, scientist, writer, and teacher. Well, I already am a teacher. :-)

    Happy birthday Athena!!! Have fun with those video games :-)
    Trust me, before you know it you’ll be 20 and wondering where the time has gone!!!

  22. Wow, what a great Christmas present… for you, that is, John :)

    Happy Birthday Athena, and Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays/Happy Hanukkah/Happy Kwanza/Happy Festivus/etc to the Scalzi clan and the rest of you folks here at Whatever.

    I’m off to Grandmother’s house, where the turkey is fat, the presents are bountiful, and the internet is dialup.

  23. Happy birthday! Man… if she looks like that when she first wakes up, she is going to be a supermodel when she hits 16!

    Your letter made me tear up in the end, which is not so good since I’m at work. My coworkers already probably suspect I’m a basket case, and this does *not* help things!


  24. Chang @7: Dude, we are total marshmallows with the crying!

    Happy Birthday Athena! Your dad might be a bit crazy and silly and nutty and talk about you all the time, which will likely embarass you to death in about three years, but those of us out here in the interwebs know that *that* means that he loves you mightily, and that’s the best birthday present of all.

  25. neutronjockey – Jeff Richard (J.K.Richard) a.k.a. the neutronjockey, is a former nuclear mechanic supervisor and medical officer recruiter for the U.S. Navy. He was honorably discharged from military service in January of 2006. In his civilian life he is a digital artist, leathercraftsman, and writer living in Tulsa, OK. Occaisionally he commits to research work for SF/F authors. Jeff is owned by a gray Maine Coon cat while at home and three awesome horses while at the barn. <a href="">I blog on LJ</a>

    Happy Birthday Athena!

    *brb, got some dust or something caught in my eye. Dang it, John.*

  26. The 40 Hour Creative – I'm here to help you be creative! I've written plays and created the web series THE CANADIANS (now on Amazon Prime), among other things. Seth Godin said 'start a blog,' so we'll see how long this lasts.

    Happy birthday, Athena–you are still responsible for my all-time favorite posts on this blog; indeed, one of my all-time favorite blog posts, period:

    “My spleen! My liver!”

    Unfortunately, upon consulting the link, all I get is an “asset not available.” Was the video removed, or is it just broken?

  27. Amen, brother – you captured what I felt four and a half years ago exactly!

  28. Greg:

    Oh, the place I housed it is another one of AOL’s now-defunct initiatives. I’ll fix it soon. in the meantime the video is here.

  29. Happy Birthday, Miss Athena! May the wisdom of your namesake serve you well, now and in the future.

    That’s a beautiful young lady you’re bringing up there, John. My 12 year-old wanted to know who the cutie was. I swatted him for you. You know, general principle and all.

  30. Happy Birthday, Athena!

    (I’m not sure if you, your Dad, or your Mom is the luckiest … my best wishes to all of you.)

  31. First, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ATHENA. yes, I’m yelling. Birthdays should have yelling.

    When my first daughter was born, I happened to be standing outside the hospital nursery looking at her when this older gentleman asked which one was mine. I proudly pointed her out. He made all the appropriate responses but then added something that has stuck with me for 25 years now.

    He said “Son, no matter what you accomplish the rest of your life, your best work is laying there in that bassinet. Good luck.”

    You too John, you too.

  32. Happy Birthday Athena!

    John, you have indeed captured the feelings a new parent has for a newborn infant. Our oldest is 13 now and if anything, the feelings grow stronger over time. We are glad of our successes along the way, we fret about our failures and hope they don’t cause too much harm later on, and we rejoice of the person our child is becoming right before our eyes. A new parent has only the faintest glimmerings of who that person will someday be, but that first squall is so filled with promise! It’s wonderful to see how it turns out.

    Thank you for sharing Athena’s birthday with us, and your letter from ten years ago.

  33. Happy Birthday, Athena! You have no idea who I am, of course, but I have thought you were awesome ever since I saw the video of you telling Scott Westerfeld just what happens to people who hate on Pluto.

  34. Happy Birthday, Athena! I wonder what it’s like to have a semi-famous dad, and thus be semi-famous yourself, and get well-wishes from people all across the world on your first double-digit birthday.

    Mr. Scalzi, I congratulate you and the Ladywife on creating such a spectacular young woman. I would call you the luckiest parents in the world.. but that would, actually, be me and my better half for our daughter, who will also be turning ten in just a few weeks now.

    You guys come in a close second though. She really is made of god and win.

  35. Once again it is that time of year….. No, NOT Christmas… it’s Athena’s Birthday! ;p

    As I have in the past, I continue to wish you happiness, particularly on your own special day! So, Happy Birthday, Athena!

  36. Happy Birthday, Athena! Going double digits, yay!


    John, stop it. Now you’ve gone and made me want to go make babies and watch my dude blubber with that wonderful letter to Athena. You’re a great father, and it’s always neat to watch daddyhood through your eyes.

  37. Dammit Scalzi. Its a good thing I’m not wearing make up because I would have mascara running down my face.

    That letter really made me miss my dad, because I knew in no uncertain terms that that is how he felt about me. He died of cancer in 1995 when he was 51 and I was 22.

    Anyway, that is beautiful. I think your family is lucky, and so are you.

    Happy Birthday Athena!

  38. Hippo birdies, Athena! Also from my nineteen-year-old, who we all just realized it’s HIS birthday about fifteen minutes ago.

  39. Happy 10th Birthday, Athena, from one of your father’s weird internet followers.

    I think this is appropriate for today, misspelling and all.

    And I’m not tearing up after reading the letter. Honest. That’s just…paprika in my eyes. Yeah, got a little crazy with the paprika in my paprikash.

  40. ruzkin – I was born in Hong Kong in '85 and knew by the age of six that I wanted to be a writer. People spent the next fifteen years telling me it was impossible. Fifteen years too late, I've told them to shove it. I live in Melbourne, study Industrial Design, work in a bookshop and write every day. One day I'll crack the market. You're welcome to wait and watch for as many years as that takes.

    Oh God, 10! A terrifying age!
    Congrats to Athena, double digits is a milestone. Congrats to you, John – you must be doing something right if she’s 10 and still smiling like that.

  41. spacejock – Simon Haynes is the author of four Hal Spacejock novels, a number of articles on writing and publishing, and several short stories, one of which collected an Aurealis Award in 2001. He divides his time between writing fiction and computer software, with the occasional round of golf thrown in for a laugh. Born in the UK and raised in the south of Spain, Simon emigrated to Australia with his family in 1983. He's a founding member of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and lives in Perth with his wife and two children.

    Happy Birthday Athena! Our youngest daughter only just turned 11, and if your dad is half as proud of you as we are of our own kids, then you’re one lucky girl.

    Sure, writers get grumpy from time to time, but we hope you’ll understand that it’s not easy to create a civilisation before breakfast and destroy it just after lunch.

  42. Happy Birthday Athena! I am convinced you are going to be President someday. Or else giant monsters from Pluto will eat us all, oh no!!! Seriously though, have a wonderful 10th birthday, you are 1/10 of a century now :)

  43. Happy Birthday, Athena!

    Pinging off Erbo @16 and your Dad @ 18, because I just celebrated my 50th on Sunday, I hope others keep your natal and El Natividad observances distinct. I figure your parents would, because they have brains, but some ancillary relatives and acquaintances love to go cheap with the Xmas/Birthday cards.

    I’ll make sure my 10-year-old nephew Joey hears about this in about a decade. :>)

    On a totally warped note, I read this yesterday and it suggests we winterborn are disadvantaged.


  44. Happy Birthday to Athena (what’s left of it anyway)! I can only poorly echo what has already been said here. However, I can say that I somewhat share the honor of having a birthday two days away from a (now) major holiday –Halloween. You are very lucky to have parents who love you and honor that your birthday is a separate event worthy of as big a celebration (and probably an even bigger celebration) as the holiday itself . Anyway, I can tell that you are a very smart, imaginative, and charming young person. Don’t lose sight of all that is you as you approach the challenges that lie ahead of you.

  45. Athena, your dad is a doofus because he made me cry. Any boy who makes a girl cry is a doofus. But you’re still allowed to love them anyway.

    Have fun being ten. Don’t forget to be awesome.


  46. Happy Birthday Athena. Good to know all daughters know how to wrap our dads around our fingers. They’re putty when you’re sick, happy, sad and angry. They find amusement in everything you do.

    Even so, pray your father never wakes you up on your 16th birthday and says “Get out of bed, today’s the day you learn how to change the oil in your car.”

  47. Happy birthday, Athena.

    And dang it, John, that made me all misty.

  48. Happy Birthday on ya, Athena! Hoep you had a great one!

    And John, I’m not crying. I welled up, that’s all! (you’re such a great dad…)

  49. Beautiful post, John. Your family is lucky to have each other.

    Happy Birthday Athena- 10 is an awesome year!

  50. Happy birthday, Athena.

    Someday you’ll look back here and read this and realize just how much your dad loves you and has ever since you were born.

  51. Hey, Athena, we share a birthday – way to go, kid! You’ll find that you can always find someone to party with this time of year. (I say this with 40-mumblety-mumble years
    of experience.)

    To paraphrase one of my favorite books (sorry, John this
    one isn’t yours) – May your deeds endure!

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