There's a chair in a corner of our bedroom that I never sat in until it was clear that Pepin wasn't going to sleep. Around midnight, during her first weeks home from the hospital, I would sit and hold her in the dark. And it was only then that I noticed the skyline—that from this chair I could look down the hallway and there was the Foshay Tower and the IDS and the Target building, like the backdrop to a late-night talk show.
The view had always been there, of course, but I'd never found a place to sit and stare at it until I was holding Pepin and wondering how she might fit into it, a quarter-century from now. How she might be celebrating a deal on the balcony of the Foshay, orbiting in the International Space Station, or sleeping in our basement.
Before Pepin was born, I would place my hand on Lucy's belly and pronounce that Pepin was going into STEM: science, technology, engineering and math. I imagined her as Margaret Yang, the charming nerd in Rushmore, winning science fairs and flying model airplanes she designed herself. I don't know why, exactly. No one has ever cracked a science book in this house. But it would mean that she was smart and capable and focused on something you can't buy at Forever 21, and then I wouldn't have to worry about her.
I was already building my helicopter, preparing to hover. A terrible realization, given how much fire I've directed at other pilots, like the parents who once accompanied their 18-year-old daughter to an informational interview at the magazine I worked at, sat on either side of her, and asked all the questions. But I'm suddenly sympathetic: It's a tough world, why wouldn't you do everything you could to help your kids through it?
The fact that we know the answer—that it's our own fears we're assuaging, not theirs—doesn't matter. Why shouldn't we tend to our anxieties, why should we pretend they don't exist? The problem is that there's no way to keep anyone safe from grown-up travails except to keep them from growing up.
When I was a teenager, I visited my father at work and noticed that the photos of my siblings and me tacked up near his computer were many years old. Benign inertia, I'm sure. But we were small children in them, as innocent and devoted as golden retrievers, and I imagine that might have been more pleasant to think about than the sullen, long-haired phantoms we had become. We were also unformed—we could still have turned out like Mozart.
People ask me about Pepin: Who does she remind you of? I say it's too early to tell. She's so strong, she's going to be climbing these walls! She can't even lift her head. Did you see that smile? That was gas. It's all projection, I argue—our speculation says more about us than her. But part of me might be holding back. I might want to keep her a blank slate. Because right now she could still be anybody.
(Photo: The future leader of the free world? Presently the dictator of ours.)