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
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.