by John Ellis
Thirteen years ago, on this day, our daughter was born. The day before Infinity was born, Greenville, SC suffered a severe ice storm, and most of the community was without power. The hospital let us stay until power had been restored to our apartment.
I’ll never forgot strapping the car seat containing this tiny, new person with curious eyes that were far more alert than I thought a newborn’s eyes should be into the backseat of our car. We were responsible for her, and, in that moment, I realized how little control I had over the world around me. Sure, I could manage my own driving, making sure my hands were at ten-and-two, looking both ways before venturing into intersections, constantly checking my mirrors and blind spots, and driving just below the speed limit. The other drivers, though, were all incompetent idiots that day, and it’s a wonder I didn’t have a heart attack or stroke as I desperately strove to get our precious package safely home.
The irony is that as I steered into the fearful desire to protect and shield my daughter from all harm and trauma, she resisted it. Her too-alert newborn eyes were a foreshadowing that I had overlooked, even with my training and experience in storytelling.
Fiercely independent from the get-go, Infinity had little time for my doting and worry. She didn’t like being held, cuddled, constrained in any way, or watched over. Instead, she wanted to be free to explore. Even as a newborn, she could hold her head up straight and peer curiously, searching with her tiny hands to feel different objects, far more interested in taking in the world around her than in being a baby.
When Infinity was just a couple of months old, Danita and I watched her intently study the differences between the screen door and the glass door leading to our balcony. There was no doubt what she was doing as we watched her scoot from side to side, touching each door, scrunching her face up in thought, and then scooting to the other door to repeat. And repeat she did, for at least fifteen minutes. I think that’s the moment that we knew that math and science would be her forte (she wants to be a computer programmer for NASA and is currently taking a high school level computer programming class).
Always an overachiever, Infinity’s experiences would make a good “most interesting baby in the world” commercial. Infinity was potty-trained in less than a day before she was two at her own request (true story). Intermediate steps like crawling were a waste of time, so she went straight to walking. Multiplication and long division were mastered before kindergarten. She seemingly didn’t need to learn how to read since reading is an innate skill of hers (she averages reading over a book a day). As a two-year old preschooler, bored with the classroom puzzles suitable for her age bracket, she forced the teacher to go to the elementary school to get puzzles that contained hundreds of pieces. As she continued to grow and develop, she wanted (and wants) to learn how to do everything.
Not content with just mastering STEM subjects, she was singled out in kindergarten for the related arts gifted program. The thing was, there weren’t any gifted programs for kindergarteners. “We’ll figure it out,” the school told us, “because we don’t believe that she’s being served academically to just leave her in her kindergarten class.”
In elementary school, she decided that anything less than 100% on tests, quizzes, projects, and homework was an abject failure. We tried (and try) to talk her out of that mindset, but she has set a standard for herself that she refuses to let go (although, taking high school classes this year as a 7th grader has challenged her standard). In 5th grade, I scheduled a conference with her math teacher with the goal of wrapping my brain, as best I could, around my daughter’s academic future. When the excited teacher began breathlessly mapping out Infinity’s math classes through high school, I learned that there is such a thing as a differential math class. I still don’t know what it is, but I know that my math-minded friends are impressed when I mention it.
Beyond her big brain, Infinity loves babies and many of the mothers in our church frequently tell us how much help she is. She loves to organize and direct the neighborhood kids into playing imaginative role-playing games with continuing, overlapping narratives that she creates. As an entrepreneur, she has a myriad of ways in which she makes money around the neighborhood, even employing neighbor kids and paying them wages as she rakes in the big bucks (I’m waiting for a certain, very-liberal neighbor to report her “businesses” to the authorities so that I can write an article about it).
Ironically, when she was newborn, I stocked her toy chest with baby-appropriate sports equipment and, as it turns out, sports are the only thing that she’s no good at. Being self-aware of her lack of athletic talent didn’t stop Infinity from pleading with her soccer coach to put her in as goalie when she was eleven. The other team’s score came close to resembling a basketball score that game. Throughout the onslaught of soccer balls sailing past her flailing hands and feet, she never lost her smile, energy, and desire to do her best.
Like on that soccer field, there are times when she seems to need only her own internal approval. Danita and I missed her kindergarten graduation, because she deliberately failed to give us the packet of information about it her teacher sent home. At the end of last year, while I was riding herd over a much-needed room-cleaning (as organized as her brain is, her bedroom and personal spaces are terrific disasters), I found out that she had won Student of the Month for September of that year. She didn’t care enough about the award to let us know. There have been multiple times when we’ve either found out after the fact or secondhand from others that she has won awards, been honored for something or other, or accomplished something extra praise-worthy. She hated winning her school’s art competition every year and, after the first year, refused to go to the district-wide art show where her pieces were displayed.
However, even in all that, there is a deep need for acceptance that wars with her independence. Before she died, my mom told me, “John, out of all my children, you’re the one I always worried about the most because you feel so deeply.” I now understand what she meant, because that’s Infinity. She sees everything. Intellectually understands everything. Yet, not only is she still a child, she also has the soul of an artist that doesn’t allow her to distance herself from anything. She feels deeply in ways that would terrify me if I didn’t have faith in the Sovereign Creator of the Universe.
Now, at 13, Infinity is complicated, driven, and frightening. I am acutely aware that the day is quickly approaching when her intellect will roar past mine and I will struggle to answer her questions and challenges (it’s been years since I’ve been able to help her with her math homework). Danita and I are alternately proud and saddened by her fierce independence, knowing that our baby girl is swiftly approaching the day when she will take her superior brain and uncommon drive out into the world with the goal to conquer everyone and everything. The rest of y’all better hope that she’s benevolent, because there’s a small yet real chance that she’s going to be your dictator.
Even in her independence and push towards adulthood, there are moments when she’s a child and longs for the closeness of parents and, at times, silliness. On one hand, I crave those moments, and, frankly, always have, because even when she was a young child, those moments were rare. Yet, on the other hand, I wouldn’t trade the complicated, brilliant, talented, driven, and fiercely independent daughter that God has given us.
As Infinity officially enters her teen years, it’s only my faith in our Sovereign God that eases my worry and fear. Combined with her powerful STEM brain, she has the deeply shadowed heart of an existentialist. By way of contrast, Hayden, her brother, is sweetly uncomplicated. What you see is what you get with him. On the other hand, Infinity is often an enigma to me. Parenting a daughter who is both an extreme rationalist and an extreme existentialist is a contradictory challenge that swamps the feelings of inadequacy I felt as her strapped her into the car for the first time thirteen years ago.
Constant prayer, consistently preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to her, and much love and patience are really the only parenting “tools” that I am sure of as I try and parent someone as brilliant, talented, independent, and complicated as Infinity. Trusting in God’s sovereignty over all things is where my sanity lives and is what keeps me from despairing at the thought that she may follow in the footsteps I left during my late-teens and twenties.
I deeply love her while even when her complications and challenges tempt me to an infuriated despair. Rarely am I so befuddled by another human’s complications, yet my own daughter strains, almost to the point of breaking, my artist’s ability to spy into human nature. Her questions about God and the Bible and Christianity and the world around us frequently dash all of my apologetics skills on the rock of high stakes. I can stand in a classroom and teach apologetics. I can engage a skeptic with confidence. But my own daughter reminds me in very personal and scary ways that apologetics is not a game and that I am utterly unable to argue anyone into the Kingdom.
On her 13th birthday, I am in awe of my daughter’s abilities and potentials. That awe is a gift from God, because it reminds me of how dependent I am on my Heavenly Father. Marriage is sanctifying, but so is parenting. Parenting Infinity makes me realize that without a gracious Teacher, I would fail miserably.
One final anecdote: after my wife and I decided to name our unborn daughter Infinity, we told my parents. Sitting in the restaurant, my dad thought about the name and then said, “Infinity? That sounds like a car.”
I responded, “You named me John, and that sounds like a toilet.”
He never said another word about her name.
Many people assume that there is some theological or philosophical reason for why we chose the name Infinity. Nope. We didn’t have a good reason or motive for naming our daughter Infinity outside of the fact that we liked how it went with her middle name Kye.
Little did Danita and I know at the time, but the name we chose for her foreshadowed her ability, complications, depth, and passion.
Happy 13th birthday, baby girl. I love you very much and am proud of you.