Thursday, March 11, 2004


1pm, Tuesday March 9th, 2004. Sitting on our small patio out back, feeling the breeze on my face, 60 degrees and sunny. A van passes down the long dirt road that runs behind a protective row of Leyland Cypresses that border the far edge of our backyard, and a plumed line of rising white dust marks its wake. There is a drywall contractor’s crew at work in the unsold house next door, and its hammering is strangely soothing, perhaps a throwback to cherished afternoons from my youth spent in the company of my father, who himself once owned a contracting business and would sometimes take me along to job sites to watch him work and pretend I was helping. He’d pack two lunches, or we would buy matching cans of Beanee Weenie, sodas, and a bag of chips at a nearby convenience store. We’d choose a spot on the site, a seat of concrete or unsanded plywood, and eat the beans and franks cold from their cans with plastic spoons, and share our chips, and talk. Eventually we would go back to work, which meant I’d be using discarded scraps of 2x4 like splintery building blocks in a corner, constructing a rickety castle with rows of bent ten-penny nails lining its parapets while Dad hung sheetrock or framed doors and windows. The wind would blow across the foundation slab, and the same sounds and smells would float over into my little fortified corner that I am sensing this afternoon, here in this place so far removed from who I was then.

Now I am also father to a son.

Fifteen minutes shy of twelve hours ago, I was sitting on the sofa, watching an episode of Beavis and Butthead (which MTV2 has recently begun re-broadcasting, much to my inner 16-year-old’s delight), when I heard Holly call down the hall from the bedroom. Enrapt by the flickering foul-mouthed figures before me, I caught nothing of what she said, only its urgent, forceful tone. I pawed at the remote (note: the mute button, not the power – I am a man, after all) and called out to her in return.

“What, honey?”

“We need to go!”

And a long beat, which probably wasn’t all that long but certainly seemed to stretch out over several miles, followed finally by the clarifying, “I’m pretty sure my water just broke, and we really need to go.”

I believe I may have tried to vault over the back of the sofa à la someone much more graceful than I, but all I remember clearly was my eventual stumbling burst through the bedroom door to find soaked bedclothes and a particularly pitiful-looking Holly standing sheepish with a mushy wad of toilet paper in her hand.

“You know, honey – I think you might be right about your water breaking,” I said with a smile. Unable to help herself, she grinned back.

“Just shut up and help me.”

Like a fool, I immediately began to clean up the mess, mopping at the carpet with a towel and stripping the bed. When Holly came out of the bathroom from changing clothes and saw me there in the floor, the earlier moment’s glibness abruptly vanished.

“Do you realize we live twenty-five minutes from the hospital? Leave it! Get up! We’ve got to go!!!”

Oh, yeah, I heard in my head, in Butthead's voice.

“What’s wrong with you,” I heard her ask rhetorically as she walked away from me down the hallway. In my rush to keep up with her, we left absolutely everything at home – Holly’s clothes and sundries, the baby’s going-home outfit, the camera, the birth plan, everything. Ultimately, I suppose, it didn’t matter very much, considering nothing else went as planned, either.

We managed somehow to survive the drive to the hospital (with my beautiful wife repeatedly snapping at me that if I drove the speed limit, “we’re not gonna make it,” and me reasoning that if we all died in a high-speed collision on the way there, then it “wouldn’t make much difference, would it?”), outside of which I initially walked right away from the running car, keys dangling musically in the ignition, to help her inside until she stopped and pointed out to me what I’d done (or, rather, hadn't done). Registration, elevator ride, and suddenly we were in the birthing room, prepping for a quick ultrasound to verify the baby’s position. The whole process, in fact, has seemed much like that – rushing past me at high speed, and my neck whiplashing back and forth to catch a frame or two of the action, as if I were trying to stand on a subway platform and read the painted registration numbers from a specific car in a passing train.

The ultrasound showed that the kid was still breech. I knew Holly was upset about this, as she had desperately wanted to deliver naturally, but she and I both wanted whatever procedure would be safest for the two of them. After speaking to an anesthesiologist, the staff wheeled her away to be spinally tapped and likewise epiduralized, and I was left alone for a moment, awaiting further instructions. A nurse brought scrubs and a hat and a mask and those slippery paper shoes for me to wear, and I began to dress up as a doctor, grateful for something to keep me occupied while I waited. When the nurse returned, I was fully decked out in my ER gear, and I bounced up from my chair like a jack-in-the-box.

“Are they ready?” I asked.

“Well, there’s been a problem.”

Okay, not at all what I wanted to hear, lady. What is it with you healthcare professionals and your dramatic pauses? May I remind you that this is real life and not a script? Please explain yourself quickly and economically before I start hardcore freaking out, please.

“The anesthesiologist wasn’t able to find the spinal space.”

Again with the pausing. I wasn’t saying anything at all, merely standing there zombie-like with my mouth hanging open, but inside my head I was screaming WHAT?!? JUST TELL ME, BITCH! IS SHE PARALYZED? IS SHE DEAD? WHAT? WHATWHATWHAT!!!

“There is such a curvature in her spine that he couldn’t successfully administer the epidural, so they’re going to have to use a general anesthetic instead. Someone will come and get you when the baby is delivered.”

And that was that. Hundreds of dollars and twenty-plus hours invested in birthing classes, and yet, in the end, the full extent of my coaching was to stroke a few strands of her hair from her eyes before they wheeled her bed away. I spent the following twenty to thirty minutes of non-labor pacing the floor like a ‘50s cliché, minus the cigarettes (but only because they wouldn't allow it). If I am honest, I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous in my entire life as I was for that brief span of time. Strangely, though, I wasn’t nervous about the operation; I may hate doctors, but I have relative confidence in their collective abilities. Instead, I was nervous about meeting him. Heart-poundingly, gut-knottingly so. I didn’t have all the action and distraction of the typical delivery room experience to divert my attention and diffuse the emotion of my first encounter with the person I helped create and now plan to raise, to teach and soothe and entertain and love and protect and cherish with every ounce of everything I am. And if the idea of that task doesn’t give you cramps, you’re much tougher than me.

Then he came rolling down the hall, and he was all sticky and vernix-dusted and cuter than a truckload of buttons, and my anticipation vanished. He was still crying from the manhandling he’d no doubt received in the operating room, so I picked him up, tucked his tiny swaddled body into my arms, and said, “Hey there.”

The crying stopped instantly, and he struggled to open his sensitive eyes far enough to catch a narrow glimpse of me, of my face and the smile that all but enveloped it. I had to wonder if he’d ever opened them before, which called to mind the way ducks and chickens will 'imprint' upon the first thing they see when they hatch. Then, for the rest of their lives, these birds will get upset any time the person or object is taken away, and can only relax again once it returns.

“Imprint to your little heart’s content, pal,” I whispered into his tiny, perfect ear. “Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.”

Have a cigar, gang, and celebrate with me the birth of Jeremy Robert, my son, born March 9th at 2:44am. 6 pounds, 7 ounces, 19 inches long, and mom and baby are healthy and happy. Dad, on the other hand, is positively delirious.

Wait’ll you see the pictures. No kidding, he’s gonna melt that protective plastic sheeting right off your monitor’s screen. I offer my cherished readers fair warning, however – I may never write about anything else again. ‘Cause nothing else could ever compare.

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