You have a child. You actually saw it happen. Well, some of it anyways.
Stepping into the nursery with the doctor, a still ambivalence hovered around my emotions, I had a hard time deciding what was actually going on. Whatever I felt at this moment, it was primal yet mundane, maybe even profound, but…
A living thing was staring back up at me, and there was no one around to tell me what to do.
If the twilight zone existed, surely this was it.
The imaginary audience in my head was silent. The versions of my parents that existed as part of my psyche, silent. No wisecrack from my brother conjured itself out of my memories. Even my wife’s voice was silent.
Not knowing what advice to offer, my brain conjured up scenes from movies and TV shows. I heard Dave Chappelle’s voice from “Killin’ Them Softly” telling the baby on a corner bit. I weighed their input and argued with them, my vertigo increased.
Does anyone truly exist in this moment? Wasn’t I supposed to be overwhelmed with love or joy or something?
My lizard brain, high on fumes from the long ago spent food, droned on about sleep. Reality no longer made sense. I didn’t make sense.
If the twilight zone existed, surely this was it.
“Hey baby,” I said looking around, making sure no one was watching, “how’s it going?” It looked in my direction, affecting a stank-face.
“Aw, you little punk-ass mofo, what’re you lookin’ at?” I said bobbing and weaving, as if I were talking shit to a friend.
The infant (she) screwed her face up and made a noise, “EEEEEEEEEEYI-AAAA!”
“Whoa! That’s a f*cking scream, kiddo!”
The nurse walked in and broke the tender moment, saying she’d take the baby to our room. I walked out ahead of her holding the door (unnecessary as it was automatic) and strolled awkwardly side-by-side with her down the hall. The rational part of me placidly keeping pace as well, observing. Nothing came to mind.
Stepping into the recovery room, my wife stared at me, still high off the epidural. My first thought upon seeing her was to proudly declare that the baby had already heard the word “fuck.”
You’re on your own now
We walked out of the hospital that first day believing that a doctor or nurse, some scientist, or clandestine government official would come out and tell us the simulation was over. The baby — a hologram — would dissolve in an explosion of light particles. As the days passed, though, and no one came, we settled into a routine.
Nothing about the first few months felt natural. Parenting didn’t feel natural. I often watched myself going through the motions, just barely existing between periods of unconsciousness.
When people asked how it was going, I gave it to them as straight as I could: “Well, the baby is still alive and I haven’t dropped her. Yet.” Not exactly the answer they were looking for but it was the one I had.
Everyone else fawned over (her) the child — instantly in-love, but I felt myself struggling with affection. I hardly knew the baby. We hardly knew the baby. Sure she was cute, and I was fond of her, but I didn’t feel myself bursting with rainbows, sunshine, and love.
“Oh, you’re over the moon,” a well-wisher assumed on an early trip back to the hometown. “You’re so over the moon in-love, aren’t you?”
I recall staring at her for a moment too long, not sure whether to laugh or crumble into hysterical laughter. Instead, I nodded my head in vigorous agreement, “Yes! Yes, I am.” She looked at me a moment longer as if weighing my words, then drove off.
I guess I hadn’t reached that side of the moon yet.
A father of two at the doctor’s office promised me it would go fast
A year in, our reality continued to restructure itself and days were dominated by an endless litany of tasks and fatigue. Fatigue — a reality that’s intellectually easy to grasp, but difficult to experience. Breaks were few and far between, and only came when free babysitters showed up.
Otherwise, we were on autopilot — automatons performing tasks, devoid of higher thought, but dutifully nurturing our growing parasite — a lovely parasite that was developing a symbiosis with us. With me.
After many witching hour rocking sessions with our little shrieker, we joked about which relatives or potential adoptive family would pay the most for the baby. Could we start a bidding war? Maybe whiskey-dipped spoons really worked?
I recall staring at her for a moment too long, not sure whether to laugh or crumble into hysterical laughter.
Were we unusual in our sentiments about our child? Could we be accused of being horrible, unloving people for labeling our sweet lovechild a parasite? For starting a bidding war over her adoption? Or resurrecting old cures for ill temper? I don’t think so. We were coping, as many of you out there have coped, with humor befitting our inexperience and exhaustion.
Having and raising children is a strange and exhausting, yet sublime experience. The vast majority of you were/are probably like us: excited, nervous, and ignorantly thinking you’ll still know yourself after the sleepless rush of the first year or two.
If you can’t laugh about it, you’ll crack.
Besides, in our own way we were bonding with the baby, who’d finally earned all her proper pronouns. And a name! Plus, at one year she was responding positively to Tool and Soundgarden and all my favorite Hip Hop, circa 1989–1995.
Arriving at parent status, in full
So what’s love got to do with it? And when did love develop? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but my non sequitur is that you will survive that first year and find yourself in-love.
It’s not a question that’s easily answered by many a first time parent, though. Looking back, you may see facets of it in the small things: the first smiles and intelligible words — Ma ma, Da da; the first full tower you build together with the mutual intention to knock it down; reading your first bedtime stories; and the first time they correctly pull guard (a grand personal achievement for this former martial arts instructor).
Then there are the times when they inadvertently embarrass you in the family changing area after a swim lesson. “Daddy, I have a vagina and you have a penis.” Lots of people heard that one.
There’s also the image I have of mom and daughter walking to school for the first time. Priceless.
Maybe whiskey-dipped spoons weren’t a myth?
I can’t easily define when I felt love for my child, but looking back, I don’t see it as missing. I see it as a thing that’s been growing alongside all of us from the start.
A rudimentary version of this article appeared here.
If you enjoyed this tear-jerker, try something lighter: