Monday, April 26, 2010

Just because I love this photo

Ready to go, my love!


Now that our girl A is about to celebrate her three-week birthday, I feel like I am surfacing once again to look around and take a breath. I haven't been blogging in the last few weeks -- haven't been doing much of anything, really. Not a lot of emails going in or out, not writing anything, not a lot of phone calls or Facebook stuff, not even finishing The New Yorker. I haven't been on the subway in a week, since we rarely leave the neighborhood these days. Our universe only extends as far south as 110th street, as far west as Riverside Park. As far north as Duane Reade. As far east as Central Park.

These are not complaints, though. Ever since A arrived we have enjoyed this insular period as a time to recalibrate our ideas of love and family, and to welcome somebody new into the most basic unit of who L and I are and how we live. It's been so pleasant, and so simple, to think of little more than L and A. Ever since A came home everything else in the world has felt distanced and glazed over.  Stories in the news, reality TV exploits, pressing articles on issues I should care about, all seem relatively weightless when compared with the reality of this miraculous baby we've got on our hands.

So far I am really enjoying having A around. She is getting on a nice three-hour cycle of feeding, hanging out, and sleeping. Her arm movements are spastic yet endearing. Her eyes are full and alert now, she is gaining some plumpness in her limbs and belly, and she is working so hard to lift her big old head to take everything in. She settles easily with the pacifier (usually) and she can spend hours lying on your chest or in your arms, as long as her own hands and arms are free to flail about in whatever way her blazing little brain commands. In the mornings she is so calm and lovely. And today she pooped on my shirt for the first time. That was a funny moment, almost as funny as earlier today when L managed to drop an entire container of grapes on the living room floor, forcing us to shove the furniture around to retrieve all the gnarly, dirt-crusted grapes, now looking like unappetizing truffles, from under the couch.

Anyways, before A was born I was curious about how I would feel about her: Is it love at first sight? Does the floor drop out from under you? Like the rest of this experience, it hasn't been nearly as dramatic or sudden. Instead, it felt more like this new paternal love arrived full and complete at the same moment she did, that I turned around one moment and found that my life had a new foundation, solid and impenetrable. There was a new given, a new creed: love my wife, love my daughter. The idea of loving A was as obvious and undeniable as the fact of her own existence.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Judges' Save

The first night at home with A was kind of rough.  There were three of us sleeping in that room, my wife and me in the bed and our baby in the co-sleeper beside us.  Now I had two faces to seek, two breaths to listen for.  We were ready to leap up in response to her cries, and we spent the whole night lurching violently into wakefulness whenever she pierced our sleep.  L had it worse than me, obviously, but I was up with her changing diapers and offering my sincere if groggy moral support.  Yet when I returned to bed my mind would start scraping against grim thoughts: worries about my daughter and her health, doubts in our (my) ability to raise her right, numberless questions I can't answer.  It seems like having a kid opens up new depths of love in your life, but that intense love is equally matched by worry.  I was thankful when the sun came up and we could rejoin the day, banishing our doubts to the night and leaving behind fitful dreams of babies' cries.  

The second night at home was better.  We knew what to expect and L mercifully let me sleep through a few rounds.  The funny part, though, occurred earlier.  During the entire period of A's existence -- that is, since Monday -- I have been surprisingly unemotional about all of the joyful ruptures in our old life.  Last night we were watching the results show on "American Idol," and according to their rules, when someone gets the lowest number of votes, they can perform one last time and the judges have the opportunity -- which they may use at their discretion and may only apply once during the entire season -- to reinstate that person in the competition.  This is called "the Judges' Save."

Well, last night, soul singer contestant Michael Lynche, who I really like, got the lowest number of votes.  He had one last chance to perform for the judges in the hopes of winning the Judges' Save, so Michael Lynche started singing "This Woman's Work," a song that I have loved for a long time, a song about pregnancy and and childbirth and womanhood and love and devotion and commitment, and I was sitting there listening to it, and I watched the judges conferring among themselves in the foreground of the screen, and then I started thinking about the Oprah Winfrey interview with Tracy Morgan that we had watched a little earlier, where she said that every man has a dream for his family, and then Michael Lynche was finishing his song, filling every single breath with all the passion and desire he could muster as his wife bawled in the front row, and then the song was over, and the judges were whispering, and Ryan Seacrest silenced the crowd, and Michael Lynche stood there like some testament to fatherhood itself, and then the judges bantered, and then they said -- Michael Lynche had won the Judges' Save!  He was still in the competition!  The audience erupted.  And at that point, dear reader, I lost my shit and started to cry.  I hadn't shed a single tear since A was born, and now here I was crying all over the place on the couch next to L.  We started laughing immediately.  "What am I doing?"  I said, pointing at my face.  "Why the heck am I crying?"  I said.  But I was still crying.

"He got the Judges' Save," I said through my tears and snot.  "I'm so happy he got the Judges' Save."

Monday, April 05, 2010

The day you were born

This is the story of the day A was born. In case you haven't heard, A is our new daughter, born today. Objectively speaking, she is extremely cute. Her nose and lips and ears are small and perfect. She has a funny hairline. Her skin smells warm and fresh. She has deep, milky eyes. She usually has a very placid demeanor, and she reacted to her first diaper change with an air of dignified resignation. When she sleeps her arms fly akimbo and her fingers grasp for something we can't know. Her first life lesson today appeared to be, "It's OK to sneeze." Her first sneeze resulted in tears; by the end of the day she could handle it, while her parents rejoiced at the chance to bless their lovely daughter once again.

But before A realized that sneezing was ok, she had to get born first. Here is what happened. It's rated PG-13 for language and stressful situations.

The original plan was for us to head into the hospital to induce labor around 9 pm tonight. We went to bed last night expecting to spend the day waiting for nighttime to roll around so we could swing into action. Consequently, I slept late, and woke up around 9 to find L anxiously pacing through the apartment. She was having contractions, and had started writing down their times. The contractions were lurching along at irregular intervals: ten minutes, twelve, seven, eleven. I briskly showered and ate breakfast and got ready for something. The contractions intensified; L was in pain. Around 10:15 we called the doctor. I explained what was happening. "She's in labor, come on down to the hospital," they said. Okay.

Except that L couldn't come to the hospital -- she was in too much pain to leave the bathroom, let alone the apartment. She was in agony and was making the kind of sounds you don't ever want to hear from a loved one. I expected her to emerge from the bathroom crazed with rage and pain, Hulk-like, like she had been ripping the linoleum out with her fingertips. After a half hour of cajoling and pleading (including one false start) I lured her out of the apartment. She was moaning in the elevator. Outside I dashed through the crosswalk, hauling our three bags of hospital-bound stuff, as L clutched her body and slowly made her way. People were looking at us but not saying anything. I ran back to get her and hailed a cab. I loaded everything up but the cabbie said, "Wait, does she need help?" L couldn't make it through the crosswalk. I guided her to the car and we got in. Before she stepped in the car, though, my delicate orchid of a wife said those magic words that every prospective father longs to hear: "I'm going to poop in the cab." "That's ok!" I said. After slinking through a few stoplights I asked the cabbie to take the West Side Highway, to make sure we could get all the way to St. Vincents Hospital, down on 12th street. We had almost 100 blocks to go.

In the cab L's contractions started out at about two and a half minutes apart. L was gasping, moaning, yelling out, arching her back and clutching onto the handrest or window frame so hard that her muscles would tremble with her pain. And then her contractions started coming at two minutes apart. During those brief intervals I would pray that we could somehow advance 40 blocks before the next wave, but L had to suffer through each crashing wave as we slowly made our way south. Later, I would laugh that she also seemed to be having a mild Tourettic episode. "Breathe through it, honey," I would meekly suggest. "FUUUUUUUCK," she would reply. Or I would helpfully say, "Just breathe, my darling," and then she would say, "SHIIIIIIIIT." It was a useful dialogue.

Finally, an eternity later, we made it to the hospital. It was around 11 o'clock. L got out and shuffled inside as I stayed back to pay. She hadn't pooped in the cab. Our angelic driver had turned the meter off early so we could dash out quickly, and he helped us get our bags from the trunk. I gave him a massive tip. We shook hands and he wished us luck. I kind of wanted to give him a hug. As we went in, someone else called out, "Congratulations!"

We made it up another elevator to the labor and delivery floor. L held on to me, buckled over, as I explained our situation to the nurses. They ushered us into a delivery room and a nurse checked L out. "Shit, there's the head," the nurse said. Our midwife, Barri, appeared, and there was a flurry of activity as they raised the bed and got L in the position to push, summoning forth piles and piles of covers and blankets and protective gloves. "What about an epidural?" I said. "There's no time -- the head is here -- it's time to push."

I started to laugh. What the hell was going on? According to our birth plan (which explicitly stated that the baby was to be born over a week ago), we were going to have a nice, easy birthing experience, including an epidural and a veritable rainbow of the pharmaceutical industry's finest painkillers. Now we had the midwife telling us there was no time, that we would just have to push through an all-natural, granola, hippie-dippie birthing experience. Well, stop the Joan Baez CD, I'd like to get off. L and I looked at each other and laughed at how things always happen to us in the craziest possible way. This was it. I was so proud of her. At that moment, stepping off the brink together, I loved her so much.

Three or four pushes later -- at 11:19 am, less than fifteen minutes after we arrived at the hospital -- our daughter was born. She arrived a bawling tangle of blue limbs, plopped on L's belly as the midwife and nurses performed their ministrations. Our girl. A few minutes later I cut the cord, and made the nurses laugh when I said it felt like a scallop. We all laughed at the utter irrelevance of our birth plan and all of our expectations. We thought about how close we came to giving birth in a taxicab. And we would have, probably, but for a few short minutes.

We spent the rest of the day holding her, feeding her, gazing at her, taking pictures of her, speaking with loved ones all over the country and the world, and introducing Hank and John and Anna to our girl. I left to get some lunch in the afternoon and ran into an old neighbor, as well as our friends at the bookstore and Chipotle. Everyone was so warm, so happy for us -- L and A and me, our little family. It felt like a holiday in our city. What a blessing. What a tremendous blessing.

Good news

Our baby has arrived!
Alice Lee
April 5, 2010
11:19 a.m.
6 lbs., 13 oz.
20 inches

L and A are doing great. My cup runneth over.