I remember when this tiny baby wasn’t ready for college.
The Monday morning after his due date, I drove his mother to her weekly doctor’s appointment. Without advance notice we were informed it would be wise to have her admitted and induce labor. What we thought would be a fifteen-minute check-in turned into an unexpected overnighter with all the creature comforts afforded a mother-to-be in a large, charitable hospital. I was allowed to stay in the room with her, even though it wasn’t really designed to provide comfort for two.
The meals were not great. The necessary steps she had to undergo are a blur to me now, as a sidelined father who could only stand by her side, cheerlead, and try to find anything to watch on the hospital cable channels. Best of Show was a 2 a.m. showing of Tootsie, which was probably funnier to me than to her since I wasn’t hopped up on drugs and attached to assorted paraphernalia. In her favor (barely), her cold, hard hospital bed was hopefully more comfortable than the immobile chair that passed for my bed. This was no recliner, had no padding, and came without a footstool. Then again, at least I could walk around unfettered, and my four hours’ sleep probably beat her intermittent five-minute naps. Also, I could cross another Best Picture Oscar nominee off the to-watch list that I would assemble in some future year.
The next day, I left her side only twice: once during the epidural, and once when they realized they’d screwed up and had to redo the epidural. I discovered during my walks that the cafeteria food was slightly superior to the room-service meals by a slim margin, but it was a margin I savored. When I returned after my second jaunt, savoring was the last thing on her mind. Somewhere within the haze, I’m pretty sure she was a wee bit furious.
When 4 p.m. rolled around, the day drastically improved: Ghostbusters was on! In 1994, who in my age demographic wouldn’t brake for Ghostbusters while channel-flipping? Things were looking up already. As a young dumb male, I needed those little silver linings wherever I could find them, in between those moments of mandatory selflessness.
At 4:25, that magic moment arrived when her body informed her It Is Time. We paged the nurses, who swiftly swarmed into the room, flipped the switches and buttons that transformed her simple hospital bed into a Cybertronian birthing pod, and — just to make sure I shared in the discomfort — turned off the TV. This couldn’t have been more than my seventh or eighth viewing of the greatest ghost-based comedy of all time. Eventually I convinced myself it was an acceptable loss.
For the next hour I played the useless-buddy-cop-partner on the sidelines while she took center stage. I encouraged as much as I could while trying to keep from freaking out at the realization that This Was Actually Happening. Unfortunately, she couldn’t hear my feeble attempts at sympathy and encouragement because her epidural do-over had made her seriously drowsy. I was helpless and mostly useless, but refused to walk away from my responsibility/privilege to be present for the birthing process. Besides, I didn’t want the nurses to think less of me.
At 5:25 we achieved the desired results — an eight-pound, 21-inch baby boy with the correct number of body parts, who looked phenomenally cute sleeping through the night in a tiny blue stocking cap. We cried more than he did that day. In celebration, the hospital brought us dinner on the house. I devoured the contents of my plate, then picked at hers when she fell asleep after a few bites.
Our first four visitors were my mom, my grandmother, a great friend of mine at the time whom I just now realized I haven’t seen in about eighteen years, and his best friend. Other visitors would come and go over the next two days before the doctors rushed both patients out the door on Thursday. They cheerfully took a photo of the three of us on the way out. We all looked terrible. I’m pretty sure that photo was destroyed long ago, possibly by mutual agreement.
Nineteen years later, that baby’s stepmother and I are now preparing for his big move up to college next Monday. One of the greatest days of my life certainly wasn’t the most shining of moments for the dumb young male that would somehow metamorphose into me — can I get three cheers for the ravages of time? — I take a little pride in knowing that I’ve spent many of the intervening years trying to do better by him.
[Special thanks to the WordPress.com Daily Post and their occasional knack for topical synchronicity.]