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Dad's Side: "They Grow Up So Fast..."

When I was 5 years old, I was adorable. Not to sound boastful, but it's true. I look at photos of myself back then, and I don't recognize that little boy. I had blond hair, blue eyes, and a winning smile. All I can think is, What the heck? I peaked in preschool? But I was 5, and like all kids that age, I didn't know what I had. In fact, I didn't want to be 5. I wanted to be 6.

Now I'm 37, and I'm rethinking things. It's not that I mind being entrenched in my thirties. It's just that, like so many people, I wonder what my hurry was in wanting to grow up. I now recognize that time is fleeting. So you'd think that when other parents see me with my daughters and encourage me to "enjoy this time; they grow up so fast," I'd agree with them.

But often, uh, no, I haven't agreed. On various occasions, I've thought to myself: Enjoy this time? I'm stuck in a revolving door, wishing I hadn't tried to bring a stroller, a baby, and a preschooler in with me. Or: Enjoy this time? I just listened to my 8-month-old scream for 45 minutes in the car, which caused my 3-year-old to shriek uncontrollably, and now I'm pretty sure there are certain decibels I'll never hear again. Or: Enjoy this time? My daughter celebrated her first birthday with the flu. She threw up on me 19 times, became dehydrated, and we ended up spending the night in the ER.

All true stories, by the way. My point is, if there's a more clich├ęd statement than "They grow up so fast," I don't know what it is.

Because while kids may grow up fast in the big scheme of things, it's impossible to see that when you're experiencing their first year or two. Seriously, when you're living in the same house as a baby, time moves more slowly. If Albert Einstein hadn't been fooling around with such malarkey as the speed of light and his space-time continuum theory, he would have stumbled onto the same phenomenon I have.

Do the math. During my daughter Isabelle's first year on the planet, she didn't have much of an interest in sleeping, and since I took on the night duties more often than my wife did, I spent little time with my pillow. In fact, during that first year, I averaged about three and a half hours of sleep a night, instead of my usual seven.

When you're awake an extra three and a half hours, it adds up: 3.5 hours times 365 equals me being awake an extra 53 days before Isabelle turned 1. Everybody else was going along their merry way through a 12-month year, while mine was clocking in closer to 14.

Of course, if you factor in the new reality that you can no longer kill large swaths of time hanging out at a friend's house or in the movie theater, you can add at least another week or two to your year. If meteorologists can invent a bogus "wind chill" temperature, why can't we parents acknowledge that time drags when you're caring for a newborn?

I used to resent the lagging pace and the extra time I was forced to spend on the tedious details of parenting. After all, most of my extra 1,277.5 hours awake were spent struggling to put the girls to bed or trying to fake the Hong Kong flu so I could get out of changing diapers. But eventually I realized that the slowing down of time has its benefits, too.

One of my best memories of Isabelle as a baby is of a summer afternoon we spent together when she was 7 or 8 months and Susan was at the grocery store. I was sprawled out in our backyard watching Isabelle play in the grass, which I had put off cutting for three weeks. She was admiring the daisies and dandelions that had sprouted up, and we watched an ant crawl through the dirt. She was clearly having a blast. To my surprise, so was I.

Isabelle and I were appreciating the wind, the grass, an infinite blue sky, and a cardinal's song (quick, somebody shoot me with a tranquilizer dart before I start skipping across the Alps like Julie Andrews). It was a wonderful moment, and when had I ever done anything like that as an adult? I think the last time I had lain in the grass was when I was 14, and it was only because I was hiding in the tall weeds, hoping my father wouldn't see me and make me mow the lawn. (Some things never change.)

So I'm in no particular hurry for my second daughter, Lorelei, to outgrow her diapers. Even though I still read Dr. Seuss books to Isabelle, I rarely have her rapt attention the way I do when Lorelei and I linger through Green Eggs and Ham. Isabelle, to be sure, is growing up, and while I'm excited for her to hit all the milestones from kindergarten to the prom, I'm in no rush. I'm grateful that babyhood can sometimes make minutes seem like hours and hours feel like weeks, and suddenly I wish there were ways to slow down the clock even more. I already dread the day when I look back at my daughters' photos wistfully. We always spend too much of the present anxious to reach the future, and when we get there, what do we do? We wonder where the time went.

Babytalk contributing editor Geoff Williams lives in Loveland, Ohio. His first book, C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale Press), is due in stores on July 10.

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