Justin Ricklefs


From 0-18 in 5.4 Seconds

In many ways, it feels like yesterday. And in so many others, it feels otherworldly.

Spring of 2003. Still four years before the first iPhone was released. A flip phone that could text, but you had to hit the number 6 three times for O and the number 5 twice for K for a simple response.

“You have to come home as soon as possible!”

It must have taken her 4 minutes to compose such a long text.

We were newlyweds. Just a few months into the newness of something that, in hindsight, we knew nothing about. Still finding homes for all the presents we received from a picture perfect winter wedding ceremony, full of white calla lilies, black tuxes, and red wine.

If only life and love could be so well-orchestrated.

“Something’s off, I’m late…” she had said a few times the previous few days.

Deeply intuitive and in touch, she knows things far before most do, certainly before I do.

“I’m sure it will be fine. Just give it a couple days…” my denial muscles have been strong for decades.

Home was a one-bedroom, basement apartment that couldn’t have been more than 600 square feet. It was quite the change from the fraternity house in Greek Town, and the 3-bedroom townhome I shared with my best friends immediately preceding married life.

I was still finishing my last semester in college. Working as a fraternity cook to pay a couple bills, while Brooke brought home the real bacon with her full time nannying job.

During this “I’m late” stretch of what seemed like a month but was likely a few days, our small budget got tested with pregnancy test after pregnancy test.




I’m sure I’m being dramatic, but it felt like she took a dozen of them.

Each one confirming my instinct.

No baby.

“For the love, please stop spending $10 a pop peeing on a stick, there’s no baby. Plus, we’re not ready to have a damn baby anyway,” I never said out-loud, but said a million times in my terrified mind.

“You have to come home as soon as possible!”

“Umm, shit.” I knew exactly what it meant.

“OK” I nervously tapped out on the flip phone.

We met in the parking lot. As soon as I pulled in. Neither of us had to say a word. We just knew. Babies ourselves, we were now about to have one.

“I’m pregnant,” she said, with a glimmer of amazement, and a sliver of panic.

“That’s amazing, it’s going to be awesome,” I said, with a dose of excitement, and a dump truck of denial.

Through pot pie cravings, the smell of bacon aversions, a few friends and family baby showers, a move from a one-bedroom apartment to a barely bigger than that starter house, and a bunch of “wow, we’re really having a kid” conversations, our oldest was born one year and four days after our wedding day.

They sent us home from the hospital with a baby. But no owners manual or playbook.

Yesterday, she turned 18.

An adult. A woman.

I used to make fun of the old dads that I am now.

“It goes by so fast.”

“Cherish every moment.”

“Don’t blink.”

Those guys had no idea what they were talking about, or so I thought. As we throttled through sleepless nights, big fights, and “I can see now why they showed us the don’t shake the baby video” moments.

There’s nothing fast about potty training, and teething, and “why won’t you just go to bed” exhaustion.

It’s hard to cherish every moment when there’s always a lingering “are we doing this right or majorly screwing her up” knot when decisions had to be made about schools, friends, and social media.

It’s cute to sing Kenny Chesney’s song about not blinking when she’s four and then you wish your own kid wouldn’t grow up so fast because you know you still have a bunch of your own growing up to do.

Parenting is such a deeply mysterious, transformational, wonderful paradox.

Love like you’ve never experienced, accompanied by rage, fear, and impatience you never knew possible.

Beauty beyond measure, despair that feels hopeless.

A deep desire for control and certainty, while being met with the reality you have none.

Time that stands still, while simultaneously slipping quickly through your fingers.

Days that drag on, while the decades evaporate into thin air.

Wanting to pave the perfect path for them, even though them getting lost and finding their own way is a given.

A hope that you’re parenting well, while the gnawing insecurity of your failures almost wrecks you.

Saving for a college fund seems most pressing, even though a future counseling fund is likely most needed.

Confidence that adversity will build character in them, while your own heart is ripped in shreds when they’re in pain.

It goes on and on.

A rhythmic, unending dance through the late nights, the puking sessions, the sports struggles, the school second-guessing, the friend selections, the stories you’ll never hear, the stories you heard and are grateful and horrified you know, the middle school bullying, the social media debates, the times you’re on the same team, the times you are enemies, when the princess dress turns into a Homecoming dress, the boyfriend, the heartbreaks, the accolades, the can’t get out of bed days.

As the days, months, and years kept twirling, adding circles to the rings of her life, I always wanted to stop time long enough to reference the owner’s manual or the playbook.

Are we doing it right?

Why is it so perfectly lovely, yet hauntingly hard?

How bad are we screwing it up?

How bad are we screwing them up?

Despite the wonderful resources and the well-meaning mentors throughout the years, parenting sure seems to be one of those life experiences that lives you, as much as you live it.

Working out its wonders through wounds and warm kisses.

Diapers eventually turn to diaries, where she pours out her own fears and pain.

Sleepless nights because she is scared turn to late ones because she can’t sleep and wants to talk.

The tickle monster transitions to naming the adult-sized monsters we all have to face in the big, scary real world.

The childhood dreams and imaginations lead to some nightmares about not doing enough, being enough, or saving enough.

The baby rattle when things felt picture-perfect turns into some soul-rattling to determine where secure identity ultimately comes from.

The tension between wanting to stay a child forever, and figuring out how to be childlike as a brave adult.

They didn’t send us home with an owner’s manual or a playbook, just a baby.

And while we could acknowledge logically that someday she’d be all grown up, we could have never imagined what the journey would look like to get here.

The most glorious, terrifying, beautiful, uncertain, worth every damn second path of raising a human in this often scary, unpredictable, adventurous world.

A compassionate, big-hearted, fierce, beautiful adult. With her own pain, victories, wounds, scars, and stories to twirl around the dance floor with as she sets sail on adulthood.

One she’s paradoxically perfectly prepared for, and desperately not ready to face. Much like I still feel about my own.

I’m now the guy I laughed at.

“Yeah, ok bro, I’m sure it goes by real fast..” as I wrestled her into her five-point car seat, cussing under my breath because it felt impossible to pay the mortgage and try to get enough sleep to not do or say something I really regretted, all while love that is indescribable coursed through my veins.

But here I am. Here we are. Here she is.

Ready. And not at all ready.

When they send you home with a baby, you’ll eye-roll me now, but…

Don’t blink. Cherish every moment. It goes by too quickly.

She went from 0-18 in what feels like 5.4 seconds.


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