I remember every little thing as if it happened only yesterday.
We drove down the Dulles Toll Road, the way my wife drove to work. It was a pleasant morning, mid-June in northern Virginia, before the first of the stifling hot spells for the summer, but far enough into the year that winter–such as it is in our nation’s capital–was a distant memory. Then again, it was the first day of summer.
We passed one of my wife’s co-workers as we drove, a woman named Jane, who had kids already.
When I’d taken the job I’d just started, I told them I needed this day off because our baby was going to be born that day. My new boss chuckled at me as if I’d just made a funny, and said, “That’s not how it works. The baby’s gonna come when it comes, and that’s probably not on the due date.”
Except that we weren’t allowed to have a baby pool because I knew what day the baby would come–June 21. My wife was a gestational diabetic. If you control it, there’s no danger to the baby. Or to the mom. And she’d controlled it. At the time, controlling it meant insulin shots, which meant she carried a small round Rubbermaid container with her with ice and a small vial. It was a pain in the butt that would be passed by the time my son came and she could take pills.
My daughter was slow in coming. We got there hoping things would be moved along, considering that my wife had gotten a dose of pitocin the night before. No such luck. Progress was glacial into the afternoon, and it looked like it might be a marathon. Three centimeters and holding. It kind of mirrored the experience of waiting for the child this baby would become as she was the last one to leave many activities–sometimes after the coaches, even.
Then, around 4, things changed. My wife went from 3 centimeters to fully dilated with lightning speed and it was time. From there, it all blurs. I will say this, though. If your wife is giving birth and you get squeamish around cutting and stuff like that, you might want to stand by her side and not near the foot of the bed.
I got to cut the cord.
The thing that came was lizard-like–they all are at first. And I don’t recall if she cried especially loud. She passed the Apgar test with flying colors–a pattern that would continue to this very day when it came to test scores.
And when she came home, we didn’t know her and she didn’t know us. We learned, though. We learned that something that small can be that loud and that you never, ever wake a sleeping baby because you can’t help yourself. You learn that sleep is valuable, but that you can function for longer periods of time than you think without it.
We learned the six-week rule–that no matter how bad things seem with your first, it won’t be like that for twenty years. After six weeks, things calm down.
We learned that part of the cost of functioning without sleep is that your mind leaves you–like the time when my wife motioned abruptly to turn off the CD player and I stood and stared at it like I was Amish, no clue how to turn it off. So I kicked it until the sound stopped coming.
I learned that my sister was blessed by a child whose crying was blissfully sedate next to the Reston Sound Machine we’d gotten. (It’s okay, she got hers when the twins came.)
And I learned that while marriage is permanent, parenthood is forever. I learned that because I said so is sometimes a necessary thing to say, and is reason enough when I’m the one paying the mortgage (by damn). I learned that nothing feels sweeter than a little hand around my pinky as we cross the parking lot, and though it’s stifflingly hot out, having a little person trust you enough to sleep on your shoulder while you walk is a pleasure.
And I learned there are things I won’t do for myself that I would do for her, and that even though I’d love a do-0ver to fix the things I’ve blown–and they are legion–I should have had faith in her all along.
I’m a different person than I was 20 years ago today, and that she’s part of the reason why. I never thought that simply seeing another person smile for no particular reason would mean so much to me, but it does.
There are things more important than writing and watching your daughter become an amazing young woman is one of them. But it’s sure nice to be good at stringing words together so you can let her know what it means to be her father.