Sunday, September 09, 2001

Labor has begun.

Ah... the first night of no sleep -- the tossing, turning, constantly flopping and rolling in a futile search for comfort, accompanied by sighs, grunts, murmurs of exasperation . . . and my wife seems to be uncomfortable, too..

The last labor we went through started similar to this one, with a night from hell. (Yes, my wife has filed a formal complaint regarding my use of the collective "we", insisting it cannot possibly apply when I am reporting on such events as "contractions" and "labor" and "delivery" -- I submit for consideration the crescent-shaped scars on my arm she dug in during each of those contractions and the enamel ground to dust off my teeth which each grimace as I was forced to view the birth at an extremely close angle.) The contractions were seven minutes apart from dusk til dawn, and I know this for a fact because I awoke every seven minutes with red neon clock numbers glowing on the bridge of my nose and my wife's elbow in my spine alerting me the next pain package had arrived. Questions raced through my mind -- or, more accurately, the questions raced from 9 - 11, jogged at a frisky pace until midnight, briskly strolled a stretch before putting their feet up around 2:00, and at 4am they pulled the pillow over their heads and told me I was on my own -- the confused queries of a panicked father-to-be repeating unanswered in an endless loop: what do I do with her water when it breaks? was it three short breaths followed by two long breaths, or is that the international SOS signal? was I supposed to call her mother before, during, or after the baby arrives? why does she wake me up every seven minutes to announce another contraction?!?!

If a man invented the Lamaze classes, it was only as a business venture, a way to siphon more money from the dazed and confused future fathers, their rational minds clouded by the upheaval in their lives: dens and studies redecorated in fluffy clouds and rainbows, nursery rhymes and cartoon characters banishing the babe lounging along a classic tail fin; mini-van brochures replacing The Sporting News as bathroom reading material; evenings during the dramatic pennant race spent not with the lads from SportsCenter but the ladies from Labor & Delivery, learning the finer points of meditative massage and reassuring rhythmic counting to the peaceful keening of the blue whale. While spending two hours alternating between rubbing his partner’s back and massaging her feet, the father-to-be is subjected to graphic propaganda, films portraying men in un-natural settings (“I wanted to crochet with my wife, to show my support for her maternal sacrifice”) and scenes of blood and gore (“I wanted to cut the umbilical cord, to show my eternal gratefulness for her maternal sacrifice”) -- do not be confused! This is not an action flick! – these images are designed to weaken a man’s instincts, to oppose his genetic disposition to prowl in the waiting room before beating his chest and trumpeting to the pride his genes have been carried forth. Today’s fathers are not encouraged to howl amid the cigar smoke, but are accessorized with matching diaper bags.

Thursday, August 30, 2001

We're going with Jace Daniel. We hope he likes it. Thanks for your votes.

Thursday, August 23, 2001

I am so sorry I had to work; I missed the single most important event, next to the birth itself, of my wife's pregnancy: the baby shower. Or to use the correct title for this social event of the season, "Celebrating Her Motherness 2001 -- Baby Blessing II, The Joy of Life Continues" as the embossed, hand-folded, signed & numbered invitations proclaim. Twelve women, three new babies, one grumpy father-in-law, all sitting on the back porch on a hot summer day surrounding a veggie platter.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the baby part of the whole shower concept – the reason the shower exists is because there will be a new baby, and we need to bathe and clothe him. I love the baby that comes after the shower, I tried to sneak into the party and borrow a friend’s four month old little girl to just sit and watch a baseball game. Babies are the best company to enjoy a ballgame: no fighting over the remote, no rooting for the wrong team, no debates about why Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame (he shouldn’t), no rants about overpaid athletes and how you would pay for free (no, you wouldn’t). Babies simply sit and enjoy, smiling and cooing and drooling over missed bunt attempts and doubles to the gap alike. They fuss a little over the high strike, or it could be gas, but a few gentle bumps on the knee and all is well. I grabbed a beer ( from the fridge, not from the diaper-shaped ice sculpture with fruity drinks in baby bottles…and don’t ask me if they took off the nipples off the bottles to drink; it might be sexy to watch women suck from baby bottles if you’re peeking at the scrambled Spice channel, but with this crowd of post-partum “oh, the weight will come off eventually” women, expectant “my, that’s going to be a big baby” women, and not-a-chance-in-hell-of-ever-getting-pregnant-except-by-her-blind-lesbian-lover-paying-for-artificial-insemination “I know I’m 35 but it’s just baby fat” women, it’s an image I did not want to deal with the rest of my life) and thought I might settle into the recliner and tell this new little person bits of wisdom involving life, baseball, and Mookie Wilson.

Unfortunately we were discovered and forced at fork-point to join the festivities, and against our will shown 85 miniature outfits in various shades of light blue. Many adorable animals and fantasy creatures decorated these outfits, then proceeded to parade across blankets and booties and lampshades, mobiles and bathtubs, fuzzy hats and diaper bags. It took me a few minutes of icy stares before I realized I was supposed to make the appropriate cooing and awww-ing at the sight of each unbelievably adorable huggable gift, without the slightest trace of sarcasm – and they think giving birth is painful and difficult! After the gift review, we moved on to the Humiliate the Father of the Baby segment of the day’s entertainment, beginning with a demonstration of just how little I remember regarding the birth of previous children -- exact minute of the day when his head popped out? circumference of his head and amount of hair on it at the moment of birth? color of the outfit he and his mother wore home from the hospital? what I had ordered at TGIFriday’s the night his umbilical cord fell off and his mother had the waiter wrap it in a to-go box? If I had known there would be a quiz (interrogation) I might have written down all these very important details and studied them daily in preparation; had I known the shame I would bring upon my gender by not recollecting every detail, as I was assured every husband/father not present (lucky bastards) had etched in his heart, I would have video-taped the proceedings and studied daily. As I recall, one of the few memories of the blessed event that has managed to stay lodged in my numb skull was the futility of my numerous hours of intense practice with a video camera as I prepared to record with Speilbergian artistry the birth of our child; all the zooming and panning and extreme close-up practice, miles of tape shot at the beach and the pool was all for naught when my wife demanded I turn off the camera and kicked my buddy, helping with lighting, angles, and providing color commentary, out of the delivery room. We could have watched our son’s grand entrance, his first breath, his circumcision, in Hi-Definition digital video accompanied by play-by-play narration and a cutting-edge soundtrack; we could have shared the natural beauty of mother and child with our family, friends, co-workers, softball team… but, no.

The second event in Humiliate the Father must be Raunchy Embarrassment, in which every woman at the party, ranging in age from 14 to 71, attempts to out-shout the others in a Dr. Ruth-meets-Chris Rock cacophony of exactly how I failed in my role as chromosome producer. I was told in most explicit detail how my boys and I were personally responsible for the unforgivable sin of not planting a baby girl, of having the audacity to inflict my wife with son #3. And I was told what I must eat, wear, think, swallow, twist and exactly when and where and at what angle I should hold numerous body parts, mine and hers, to absolutely guarantee the same grievous error does not occur next time. Next time . . . ? Next time I’ll head straight for the bleachers, find a beer vendor, and thank God for babies, baseball, and the wisdom to stay far, far away from baby showers.

Friday, August 10, 2001

How do you tell the woman you love, the soul-mate you will spend all of eternity eating breakfast with, the heart's desire you trust with all your life decisions, from when you were married to where you'll be buried, and in which suit, . . . how do you tell her she's wrong? I know my wife is never wrong; I have been married long enough and often enough to have that slate-solid tenet sewn into the sinew of my soul. But sometimes even the queen of my dreams can make a small mistake, a minor lapse in her goddess-brilliant infallibility, creating a snag in our life's fabric we can simply fold over and safety pin -- painting the house flamingo pink; switching our 401k's to; the 10" high Cal Ripken tattoo on her belly ... these are mere gravel in the road, we can roll right over then look back in our golden years and laugh 'til we're wet. I have never doubted my wife, I have yoked my oxen to hers and she has plowed us straight and true. Until now.

We are about to have a baby. Yes, to be more specific she is about to have a baby, and I understand there is a lot more involved for her than for me. I realize she has earned some extra privileges and perks, and what once was considered foreplay is now my nightly duty as cook/masseur/pillow-fluffer – and I’m okay with that! But I have read the indexes of 20 baby books and can find no mention of the mother’s inalienable right to choose the most inane name possible for her (our!) baby boy. She tried to tell me it was a Constitutional amendments. She enlisted the aid of the enemy, mother and mother-in-law both. She withheld affectionate attention (but at this point in her “re-shaping” it wasn’t the most effective punishment). She watched the Lifetime channel 27 straight days. She cried. Yet I stand firm, resolute against the onslaught:

Leonardo. Cameron. Trystan, Bryce, Keenan. Avery, Ashton, Brandon. Les.

This is not a decision to be entered into lightly. The repercussions of which specific letters we write in a very specific order on the birth certificate will both pave the way and follow as a ship’s wake our son’s every step. Not a day will go by without someone speaking his name, with affection, love, tenderness, or in anger, frustration, passion – certainly with respect, perhaps in awe. His name will be cooed, whispered, shouted and sputtered; sung out loud and spoken breathlessly; shouted from the back porch doorway, scrunched and jumbled with his brothers’ names. The name we choose will be twisted and turned, abbreviated and mis-pronounced, rhymed in the silliest, meanest, nastiest possible ways. His name will define him and explain him. It must suit him, rest comfortably, yet securely, upon his shoulders.

Austyn, Dusty, JayDen. Chauncey, Kelby, Marque.

There are very important questions to be asked here: Would you call the Commander-in-Chief, the most powerful man on the planet, Trystan? (No, you would call him “Mr. President, Sir,” but would you want the First Lady of our great nation climbing into bed at night with Wesley?) Would you want the winning touchdown of the Super Bowl thrown by Ashton? Who do you prefer single-handedly annihilate the international terrorists – Desi? Phineas? Willard? And what on earth is a person thinking when they decide on Richard? My son needs a name I can shout proudly from the sideline, crow at the science fair, chant at the recital. He needs a name that fits perfectly with “Hey, it’s _______ ‘s Dad!” He needs a boy’s name, and a man’s name. He needs his name.

Dylan. Daniel. Jonah, Jace, Jacob. Sean, Brett, Noah. Ryan.

So we continue to read the books, poll our friends and compare our lists. We read billboards and election posters, and actually listen closely when the waiter says his name. We watch the movie credits frame by frame. Warren, Francis, Chevy? We may just wait until he’s here with us, so we can hold him in our arms and look into his eyes, and ask him what the kids at school call him.