Three days after Ava was born, on April 9, 2013, we brought her home from the hospital. And exactly ten minutes after I helped my wife and Ava get settled in at home, I went in to work. At the time, I really felt like I had to go back in to work. I work at a fast paced startup, and I worried about the stigmas of being the only parent working at that startup.
Ava is 21 months now. My wife and I both work full time, so Ava is with a nanny (we share the nanny with another family). Our nanny spends about 9 hours with Ava on weekdays. And on those weekdays, I get to spend about 2 hours with Ava (1.5 hours in the morning and about a half hour in the evening). And Shreya, my wife, gets about 2.5 hours with Ava, maybe a bit more. On weekends, we spend 100% of her awake time with her.
Shreya and I have been running hard and non-stop ever since Ava was born. We’ve hardly taken any time for ourselves and so we decided to make plans for an elaborate winter holiday. Shreya and I felt like we haven’t had a chance to spend much time alone with each other, so with my parents also joining us on this vacation, we felt like it would be the perfect opportunity for Ava to get to know her grandparents and for Shreya and I to reconnect. So off we went to Cancun, giddy as ever to make the most out of our 2014 holidays…
When we got to Cancun, some odd but magical things happened. Ava took more time than expected to connect with her grandparents. Ava is not a shy kid, but the combination of a new environment and new people forced her into her shell. This meant that Shreya and I ended up spending more time with Ava than we ever had. The average of 2 hours a day that I was spending with her went up to around 9 hours a day. And the range of activities we indulged in wasn’t confined and limited by space or time like it is at home, it was a lot more expansive. Everything we did in Cancun, whether it was a simple lunch, or a beach day, or an afternoon in the pool, was centered around her. She tried different foods (for better or worse ;), she swam around in the pool, she played in the sand, ran around… it was paradise for her. Crazy amount of work for Shreya and I, but to hear the glee in Ava’s voice as she experienced ocean waves washing over feet for the first time was worth it. Or to hear her greet random strangers with a “hola” who would smile ear-ear when they see a 21 month old trying to engage with them. But beyond all of that, there is something else that we noticed — the 7 extra hours a day that Shreya and I were spending with Ava was helping her advance in other ways too.
Both Shreya and I occasionally joke about how we wish Ava reciprocated our love for her. Usually when we snuggle up to her, she pushes us away and makes a run for it. We know that some of this is normal. But after having spent these 2 weeks with her, we’ve noticed a drastic change in Ava’s emotional intelligence. She gives both my wife and I great big hugs, that she’s never given us before. We always thought Ava really enjoyed her alone time, but after these 2 weeks, it was so endearing to see her actually return all the attention. Ava suffered from very very very brief bouts of separation anxiety, but to actually hear her whine “Daddy Daddy” when I would momentarily disappear to go to the bathroom was something I thought I’d never hear. She was actually genuinely enjoying all the attention she was getting.
Ava’s comprehension is vast, but her vocabulary is limited. After spending these 2 weeks with us we noticed that Ava was starting to talk more — the number of words she now says has doubled. Whether it was telling us it was “cold cold” when she would get out of the pool, or trying to make a fish face when she saw fish, or looking at the “blue” ocean, or saying “mama, come” — these were all new words, expressions and experiences. Something about being in a vacation resort where everyone was inherently friendly, lots of people were also talking to Ava and vice-versa. Ava also blurted out some “hola”s every now and then, and even managed an “adios” once.
We live in a condo building in San Francisco — so no access to stairs per se. But in our clubroom downstairs, there are some stairs that leads to the gym. Ava and I, along with a neighbor and his darling son, some times play around there. Ava has always crawled up the stairs with no issues, but hesitates to climb them herself (without my help). Or climb down herself. But the lobby in the resort we were staying at had these stairs that Ava was thrilled about exploring. Mostly on her own, but with a little encouragement from me. And now after practicing on those stairs in the resort everyday for 2 weeks straight, Ava’s comfortable both climbing up and down stairs on her own.
Shreya had once asked me this question that I thought was bizarre — she asked, “when did you first start to really love Ava?” And I thought to myself, that’s nuts, I’ve loved her from the minute she was born. And it’s true — my natural instinct was to love her as a parent. I hadn’t fully experienced spending contiguous blocks of time with her, and loving that. At first, the thought of spending 7 more hours a day seemed daunting and like an unsurmountable challenge to me. But after the first few days, we all settled right in. The routine became routine. And I saw Ava developing in front of my eyes, emotionally and intellectually because of the collective effort all three of us were putting in. Most nights after we’d put Ava down for bed, Shreya and I would hand the baby monitor over to my parents and we would head downstairs for a walk or to grab a drink. And in those few moments, I’d reminisce about the day and think about how much I really love my daughter and how much I love spending time with her. And that the work we were putting in, hardly felt like work at all. That she is such an integral part of my life. And I’d look forward to what new things we could experiment with the next day. There are some moments in your life when you think to yourself, “holy shit, I’m in trouble” — that moment occurred to me at the tail end of our trip when I realized that till the next weekend, I will not be spending every waking moment with Ava.