Happy birthday, Vincent Daniel Buffa: Tough little fella of mine

My son was born during a playoff race.

Think of a notification hitting an infant right as he or she is about to exit the belly and head out into the real world, “your dad is a baseball maniac and you are arriving with less than three weeks left in the regular season, so good luck.”

The dude that kicked my wife’s stomach as hard as ever when Yadier Molina blasted a home run at Busch a few weeks earlier dropped down into St. Louis on a warm yet comforting afternoon–30-plus hours of labor later. I’ll never forget walking over to the incubator and looking down at a human being that carried my name. If you ever wondered what could make me shut up for a minute, this was it.

Vinny couldn’t even turn a month old before a heart ailment put him in the hospital, one that nearly killed him. Before 2011 could close its doors, Vinny was battling another medical condition, this one in his stomach. He vanquished that with the help of amazing doctors, surgeons, nurses, and many other hospital workers. Three months into his life, and the guy was a full-fledged fighter with two wins on his record over Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome and Pyloric Stenosis.

He turned ten today. Having seen enough hospital rooms for at least another 20 years, Vinny stands tall today as an intuitive human, amazing student, and ambitious soul. There isn’t a Fortnite, Minecraft, or Five Nights at Freddy tale he hasn’t heard or played. There are few Marvel movies he doesn’t know by heart. Adam Wainwright was his favorite player, but Optimus Prime stole his heart at a young age.

Vinny is the kind of kid who asks you how you’re doing, loves the sound of fake fart noises, and would swim all day in a pool if he was allowed. The first thing he does after school is walk in the door and pet his dogs and cats. He is stubborn like his parents, a hardcore gamer like his mommy, and prone to anger fits like his dad. It’s true when they say your kid takes after you, even if it’s not always in ways that you’re proud of.

Most nights, he’s merely a young male extension (assistant) of my wife, Rachel. If I curse while watching the game or at a pet, he’ll let me know about it. If the internet goes down, he wants to call mom, not knowing a simple “reset” button on the router does the trick. In fact, if anything wrong happens in the house, he wants me to call mom. If I pour too much sugar on the peanut butter cookies, he just laughs at me.

Vinny loves to laugh and make people laugh, often launching into these extended stories, jokes, or tales with the same energy that I do. He knows more in a decade than I have grasped in nearly four decades, the product of not only a nerd school in Gateway Science Academy but just someone who is always paying attention.

That’s the thing about kids. They are smarter than we think, leaping over mental bounds while crashing into others. As parents, we get a front row seat to the everyday craze that involves raising a human. When people ask me what fatherhood is like, I tell them it’s like riding a long roller coaster—ones with big drops, high rises, and furious speeds. Sometimes, it goes too fast for you to contain or register but eventually, it will slow down.

Being Vinny’s dad is only second to being Rachel’s husband. Two honors that coincide with a particularly memorable-if maddening-stretch of 2011. Born ten years and three days after 9/11, during a wild Cardinals World Series run, I’ll never forget holding my son as he was attached to wires, cables, and monitors, thinking that the only win needed at the time wasn’t on a baseball field, but in a hospital instead.

It’s corny to say every day after 2011 has been a gift, but it’s true. It’s impossible not to be sentimental when it has to do with your kid. We almost lost him. That’s a fact. I remember sitting in a small room at Children’s Hospital, packed with doctors and nurses doing whatever they could to get him back to normal. I was literally drafting a letter to my parents in my head that he didn’t make it. I rewrote that thing sixty times inside six minutes, discarding the idea and notion that this wonderful ride was going to end suddenly.

Ten years later, I’m still on the roller coaster ride, and we are about to hit a big ramp. One that is going to take us uphill and then down incredibly fast. That’s parenthood for you.

As Ferris Bueller once said, “life moves pretty fast, if you don’t look around once in a while, you could miss it.” That could be a metaphor for your kid going from one day old to ten years old.

Happy birthday, Vinny Buffa. Tough little fella of mine. Don’t grow up tooooo fast.

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