Last night we made a large celebratory pasta dinner who’s sauce consisted of equal parts cheese, half and half, butter and bacon. It was a gut bomb straight from Heaven; white clouds to white plate. For desert we made pudding parfaits that are one part vanilla, one part chocolate, one part pie crust crumble and one part whip cream. It was a meal that was easily, easily worthy of a Thanksgiving feast or some kind of last supper for a Death Row inmate (depending on how positive or negative you wanted to be with the analogy).
We tuck the children in and say their prayers and then curl up really close to them and say, “Okay, listen… Listen… tomorrow… the baby (and we point to Jade’s tummy) is going to be out here…” and then I point to Rory’s tummy because he’s lying down and I sort of just mean that he will be able to hold the baby but he takes it to mean that the baby will somehow transplant inside of his body and so he grabs the bottom of his shirt and yanks down and jerks his knees up and fearfully shouts, “NO!” and I say, “Uh, no – sorry. Sorry. Just, uhm… here… in your lap… and I pretend to set something on top of him.
We say, “Tomorrow the baby will be here. When you wake up, Mommy and Daddy will be gone – we’ll be with the doctor – but Grandma will be here and you’ll eat breakfast with her and then you’ll come and see us with the baby, okay? Okay?” and they both mumble noises of approval that sound something like, “Baaaay-beeee…”
We kiss them goodnight and turn on their pony music box and Quinn throws herself out of bed, screaming suddenly and incoherently and I walk out, closing the door behind me while saying, “Okay… I love you too… good… night…”
Hours later I’m sitting on the couch in my living room, knowing that I should be in bed since we’re scheduled to be checked in at the hospital at 8:00am but… I’m not tired. I’m so excited! My nerves are all on high alert. The Baby is going to be here tomorrow! I say, “Can you believe the baby is going to be here tomorrow?” and Jade touches her stomach and says, “No! But I’m so excited I don’t think I can sleep!”
11:00 rolls around and we force ourselves to lie down, staring at the ceiling, staring at each other, staring at the belly, asking each other questions, talking about how bittersweet it is. I reach out and touch The Baby and it shifts and moves and I say, “This is it. Tomorrow The Bump will be gone,” and we share a quiet moment, both of us being equal parts happy and sad. Jade says, “It’s kind of sad,” and I grunt in agreement and say, “It’s kind of happy.”
I say, “I’m so excited! I can’t sleep! I couldn’t sleep even if I wanted to!” but Jade reaches over and shuts off the light and moments later… I’m asleep… and then an alarm is blasting an obnoxious melody in my ear and I open my eyes and squint and try to curl back into bed but then remember that today we’re having a baby! I throw my covers back, hop out of bed and throw on all of my clothes that I’ve laid out last night as though today were the first day of school and I were in second grade. Bugle Boy jeans? Check . Body Glove shirt? Check. Incredibly incredible Mario Brothers knapsack? Check and check.
I make coffee and throw a few loose items into a bag, eat a slice of toast with the kids – who are awake after all – bid them all fare thee well and the two of us are out the door and on our way to the hospital and then when we get there, already a couple minutes late even though it’s only a mile up the road from our house, Jade realizes she’s forgotten her purse and hence her wallet and hence all of her hospital and insurance identification so we drive all the way back home where I find my son looming over my record player doing who-knows-what to the needle and I say to my mother-in-law, “He can play with that sort of but… just… let him push the button but nothing else,” and she says, “Okie-dokie!” and Rory says, “I’m playing music!” and he hits the start button and Peter, Paul and Mary’s Best of album begins to play and I hear someone sing, “Lemon tree is very pretty / and the lemon flower is sweet / but the fruit of the poor lemon / is impossible to eat” and then I’m out the door and back in the car and back at the hospital and we’re all checked in.
They ask Jade to put on a gown and remove all her jewelry, necklace, wedding ring, belly button ring, etc. etc. and so she does. They wrap belts around her that monitor the baby and attach her to machines that read out waves and numbers that look like they’re trying to detect seismographic activity instead of the minute movements of an infant.
ABOVE: JADE MODESTLY REMOVING HER BELLY BUTTON RING / PRETENDING TO BE INVISIBLE.
A nurse enters to give an IV and Jade says, “May I have a Novocaine shot first?” and the nurse says, “For the IV?” and Jade says, “Yes,” and the nurse says, “Uh… no.” Her left hand gets stuck without incident. Meanwhile, her right hand squeezes the life out of my thumb, threatening to snap the bone right in half like a pit bull with a chicken leg.
Jade says, “Can I still get up to pee?” and the nurse says, “Yes. If you need to, you may go to the bathroom and unload.” I swear to you this is what she said. “Unload”. I felt like this elderly Latina woman was suddenly channeling her inner New Jersey frat boy. Jade gets up to pee and, while she’s in the bathroom, our nurse, again, a woman of Hispanic descent, says to me, “Do you have any questions?” and I say, “Actually, yes… I do,” and she stares at me and blinks a few times and smiles. I say, “I’ve started to learn to speak Spanish,” and she says, “Oh! That’s wonderful!” in her softly poetic ethnic way, her consonants all softer and more flowery than I could ever hope to make them with my angular American tongue.
I say, “Yes, uh, thank you. So, you speak Spanish?” and she says, “A little,” and I suppose that she’s just being coy because English is quite clearly and obviously not her primary language and so I say, “Uh, yeah, great! So, I’m wondering about this word somos,” and then I stop and she looks at me and says, “Somos?” and I say, “Yeah. Like nosotros somos. I think it means like, “We are” but I’m not exactly sure when to use it,” and she says, “Sumo?” and I say, “No. Somos,” and she says, “The only sumo I know is the one in Japan… I’m Japanese,” and I swear to you right now that I have never felt like a bigger, whiter, boxed off, Classic American Redneck, Racist, Psychopath in all of my entire life.
I say, “Konichiwa!” and quickly fall through a crack in the floor where I shrivel up and quietly die.
Jade comes out and the Japanese woman leaves and I put on my scrubs and a second nurse comes in and says, “Oh, good, you have your scrubs on,” and I say, “Yeah. I’m supposed to be completely naked under here, right?” and she says, “Uh…. no….” and I sort of awkwardly feel around my body and go, “Oh-kay…” and while I’m not actually naked, I enjoy watching the look of sympathy spread across her face as she tries to imagine what it’s like to be someone as stupid as me.
ABOVE: HAIR NET
The doctor is an hour late but when she finally shows up things move faster than a greased up toddler on a Slip ‘n’ Slide. They wheel us to the O.R. and ask me to sit in the recovery room and wait for my wife to receive her epidural. Across the hall and through the high set glass windows I can hear various chattering voices and Jade laughing. Twenty minutes later a middle-aged-but-going-into-later-aged nurse invites me in and my heart starts pumping a little bit faster and I turn on the camera in my hand and hit record, just planning on paying almost no attention to it and sort of just blindly spiraling and pointing it wherever I’m looking.
Jade is laid out flat on a surgical table, her arms splayed out in a crucified position, an oxygen mask placed over her mouth. I sit down next to her and pull down my paper filtration mask and giver her a kiss and say, “Are you okay?” and she says, “Yes,” and I say, “How do you feel?” and she says, “I puked,” and I casually wipe my mouth and smile and say, “But you’re good?” and she says, “Yes. They got the epidural on the first try.”
She mentions this because the last time we were here they assigned a student to give it to her who thought the rule was Three Strikes and You’re Out.
I shift the camera around and take note of my surrounds; it’s the same room we were in almost three years ago. Nothing has changed. The anesthesiologist behind me, warmer with nursery helpers to my left, a giant blue curtain separating Jade’s face from Jade’s guts.
Burning. The smell hits my nose like a tire thrown at the sun. I crinkle my nostrils and say, “You smell that?” and Jade says, “Yeah,” and then, “What is that? Is that burning?” and the anesthesiologist bends down and says, “That’s you. They’re cauterizing the wound as they cut,” and Jade says, “Oooooohhhhhhh…..”
Next is the most intense slurping noise you’ve ever heard; imagine a vacuum cleaner shoved into a barrel of tomato soup and fired on. Jade gets tugged and jerked around and says, “What’s that? Is that a… a vaccuum?” and the anesthesiologist says, “It’s your blood,” and Jade says, “Ooooooohhhhhhh….”
I hear a noise that sounds like a cry; no, I hear A Cry and I stand up and I peak over the stupid curtain separating my processed, domestic brain from human experience and look over it and there is my daughter, covered in gray slime the texture of half dried paint. I sit down and lean my face into Jade’s ear and I say, “Bryce Allison. It’s Bryce Allison!” and she says, “It’s a girl?” and her eyes begin to fill with tears and I say, “Yeah! Yes!” and then the doctor lifts Bryce over the curtain and says, “Mommy, here’s your baby,” and Jade gasps and says, “Ooooooohhhhhh….” and then the doctor says, “It’s a girl!” and then the baby is gone and Jade squeezes my hand.
Bryce appears around the curtain, gets placed in the warmer and I follow a nurse over. The Nursery Staff tests her, checks her, cleans her and lets me cut the long nub that remains of the umbilical cord. I say, “I didn’t get to do that with my other two children,” and I look at the child’s hair and I point at it and I say, “What color do you think that is?” and the Older Nurse says, “I would say that’s a reddish color,” and The Man Nurse says, “Yeah… some kind of red or strawberry blonde,” and I turn around and say, “She has red hair!” and Jade says, “Oooooohhhhhh….” and then pukes into a basket. The Older Nurse says, “It’s natural. That happens when they shove everything back in.”
Bryce is perfect and healthy and, as far as I can tell, completely flawless. I reach out and touch her skin and it’s soft like velvet covered in butter. The anesthesiologist takes our first photos together and then I sit in the recovery room until they wheel in Jade on a gurney while carrying Baby Bryce. She can’t move her legs at all. I reach out and touch her and she says, “You absolutely must stop that because it’s freaking me out in the biggest way possible,” and I say, “Can you feel this?” and she says, “Are you touching me right now?” and I say, “Yes. I’m pinching your toe,” and she says, “Stop.”
I pick up the baby and sit down and begin sending out all of The Messages to friends and family. “Baby is here, perfectly healthy!!!!!!!” and then my phone begins to smoke and then simply explode thanks to the enormous intake of text messages flowing into it.
I put my phone down and stare into Bryce’s eyes and say, “Who do you look like…” and just depending on which way I hold her, she looks like Quinn… and then Rory… and then both of them… a perfect little mixture of the two. I look at Jade, who is staring at her toes and straining her focus and I say, “Ten days. In ten days she won’t look anything like this,” and Jade goes to put her hands on her belly and then says, “AH!…. Oh yeah…. it’s gone…. I forgot.” Her belly is flat.
The Japanese nurse lifts up Jade’s gown and says, “I need to examine the staples,” and Jade looks at her stomach, where the bump used to be and pokes her belly, which now has the consistency of a sandwich bag filled with jello. She pokes it again and it joggles and jostles and gyrates and Jade says, “EW!” and The Japanese nurse laughs and Jade pokes it again and again and again and then places her hand on it and does The Chunk Shuffle.
The Japanese Nurse giggles and giggles and then suddenly and without warning, reaches out herself and touches Jade’s tummy and wiggles it and giggles again. She says, “You are funny. You are a funny patient. What is the baby’s name?” and Jade says, “Bryce Allison,” and I say, “Jade, are we spelling that B-R-Y-C-E?” and she says, “I think so, yeah,” and I say, “And are we spelling Allison A-L-I-S-O-N or A-L-L-I-S-O-N or with two Ls and two Ss or one L and two Ss or…” and she says, “I don’t really know,” and I say, “We don’t even know how to spell our kid’s name… we are so unprepared… I can’t believe they’re giving her to us!”
Back in the room we stare at the baby and… you imagine those first few hours to be very frenetic and chaotic and full of emotions, ranging from panic to adoration but it’s truly more euphoric than that. Everything is very quiet and calm and serene and surreal; a soft but lucid dream that you’re sure is about to end at any moment so you just look and listen and try to soak in as much as you can before it vanishes.
She opens her eyes and looks at me and I’m sure I look like a blurry ogre and not just because her vision is still developing but because in real life I actually look like a blurry ogre.
I call Jade’s mom and I say, “Alright, we’re here; we’re ready; you can come down,” and I here her say, “Ooooohhhhh…” and then the phone clicks off and the three of us are alone again. A few moments later my phone rings and June says, “We’re here! We’re here! I just parked!” and I tell her I’ll meet her at the front doors. I bounce out of the hospital room and make my way through an overly lit labyrinthine maze of salmon colored walls decorated in pictures of flowers, butterflies and topless women feeding children.
I break into the late afternoon sun and the warmth feels good on my skin after being in various cold and sterile rooms all day. In the distance, on the third floor, I see a mop of red hair bouncing along above a guardrail, running with such force that the two blonde children she has in tow are dangling behind her, feet in the air, their little bodies billowing in the breeze like surrender flags. I watch as she furiously punches the elevator call button and I take off running. I hit the stairs, leaping up them two at a time, two at a time, two at a time, then around a bend and up another half flight, and then I’m on the second floor and I crush my thumb into the call button and then casually position myself in the doorway so that, in my head, I resemble some iconic image of James Dean.
I hear the elevator descending and then bing and the doors slide open and both my kids are standing there, blank faced until they see my boots, my jeans, my shirt, my yellow hat and their eyes blow up like bombs and they say, “DAAAAAD-DDEEEE!” and I run inside the elevator and say, “Hey, there!” and I give them both hugs and say, “Are you ready to see BABY?” (being ever so careful to use a very generic noun and to stay away from he / she since June still doesn’t know and wants to find out in person). Quinn says, “YEAH!” and Rory says, “Errrr….” and then there’s a bing and the doors open again and we’re on the ground level, walking in the sunshine, four wide; Quinn, June, Rory, me, each of us holding the hand on either side of us.
We enter the hospital and get in another elevator and go to the third floor and I turn to June and I say, “Are you so very excited right now?” and she says, “I am so very excited right now, Johnny!” and outside the door I lift up the children and squirt anti-bacterial lotion into their hands and I use a little much because I know just how dirty they are and Quinn starts rubbing it and lathering it all the way up to her shoulder like she’s about to perform surgery and I have to help her clean it off and now they both smell like an emergency room.
I kneel down and gather them both close to me and I say, “Okay, I love you both so much. Thank you for being so good. Are you ready to go see The Baby?!” and Quinn says, “YEAH!” and Rory is still rubbing his hands together, trying to get clean.
I open the door and the kids walk in first and I hear Jade say, “Who is heee-yeeer?” and then, a moment later, “Oh! Look who it is!” and when I walk around the corner, she is filming them entering the room to meet their sister for the first time. Watching the video back later it’s easy to see that Quinn is cautiously optimistic, standing on her tip-toes to see just what the heck her mom has and then slowly creeping around the bed, slithering and sliding, she stands next to the bed and says, “That’s a baby,” and Jade says, “Yes! That is a baby!” and Quinn says, “That’s Baby Sawyer,” (her new baby cousin) and Jade says, “Noooooo, that’s not Sawyer,” and Quinn says, “That’s…. Baby Beckett!” (our friend’s new baby) and Jade says, “Nooooo, that’s not Baby Becket!” and I say, “Rory, do you want to come see The Baby?” (still being sensitive to use gender neutral nouns; it / the) and he, at the end of the bed, poking various medical buttons marked only as “DO NOT PUSH” and “NEVER PUSH” and “MAKE SURE TO NEVER TOUCH THIS BUTTON”. I say, “Roar, do you want to come see The Baby?” and he says, “No,” and I say, “Okay… do you want to come stand by Daddy?” and he says, “No,” and then I say, “Do you want Daddy to hold you?” and I bend down to pick him up but he lashes backwards and cries, “NO!” and I say, “It’s okay – it’s okay. You don’t have to.”
Jade says, “Do you want to introduce them?” and I say, “June, do you want to come around and see?” and I say, “Quinn… this is… your new baby sister,” and June puts her hands over her mouth and says, “She’s a girl! You have a sister!” and Quinn says, “Sisss-terrr,” and Rory says, “Where is iPhone?”
I lift Quinn onto the bed and say, “Do you want to kiss the baby?” and she leans down and kisses her on the forehead and says, “AH-HAAA!” like the craziest mayor to ever run for election, skipping through the park, kissing strange infants, “AHHH-HAAA!!!” June sits down on the bed and Rory sits in a chair on the other side of the room and so I sit down next to him and say, “Do you want to sit in Daddy’s lap?” and he stares at his toes and in a tiny voice says, “No,” and I say, “Do you want Daddy to sit in the chair with you?” and in the same tiny, rejected voice he says, “No,” and so I say, “Do you want to play with Daddy’s iPhone?” and he lights up like a firecracker and stands on the chair and points at the table and says, “Uh, yeah! Yeah! iPhone right there! I show you. I show you. Right there!” and so I grab the gadget and sit down and watch my son push a collection of digital media through strange alien worlds and, ten feet away, I watch my daughter stare at her new sister sitting in this strange alien world.
I lean over to Rory and whisper in his ear, “I love you. I missed you,” and he says, “I love you,” and I say, “Will you come sit with me?” and he stands up and crawls out of his chair and up into mine and there he stays for the next two hours while we try to navigate the dark and murky waters that is Introducing-Siblings-WIthout-Causing-Dismissive-and-Rejected-Feelings-Amongst-the-Two-Older-Ones.
I watch Quinn sit on the bed, staring at the baby which her Grandmother is holding and for just a moment I have a very Out-of-Body-Out-of-Time experience wherein I see three generations of women spread out before me and I see June as a young mother, holding a newborn Jade in some country hospital nearly 30 years ago and then I see an older woman holding a newborn June in someplace a little more dimly lit and then I see Quinn and she’s very old and she’s sitting on the edge of a bed with her daughter holding a new baby and I realize that this is just my turn at this cycle that happens over and over and over to each of us. This is me standing at the very top of the slide, looking around at the world around me, everyone small, my perspective so much more dynamic than it is on the ground.
Quinn as a grandmother… me as a great grandfather… I think about the day wherein Rory and Quinn and Bryce are three old people, Jade and I both gone, the three of them sharing a long and healthy history together that’s seven decades deep and here I am, witnessing the very first day that they meet one of their most intimate friends. Quinn, up close and personal and Rory, impassionately disconnected but it’s all the same. It’s all The Moment. It’s The Day. The First Day that stretches out into the next 70 or 80 years.
When the children leave a few hours later, Quinn kisses the baby on the feet and on the head and Rory says, “Bye, Mommy!” and they both walk out of the door with their Grandmother. I turn to Jade and say, “Did we do that right?” and she shrugs and says, “I hope so,” and then a friend brings us burgers and then we Skype with my mother, which basically just entails me pointing the camera at a sleeping Bryce while we talk off screen.
Nurses come and go and start shifts and end shifts and the world is moving around us, the sun soaring through the sky, the shadows lengthening out on the floor and then vanishing completely while I just hold my new daughter and stare at her and say, “I love you so much, Little Bryce Cake, Little Brucey, Little Bruce,” and the instant bond that I feel to this little human that so much resembles a bag of soggy potatoes is completely astounding.
In the hallway I can hear other babies crying, other newborns, other people who’s journeys are beginning here and now; a small club of individuals who all enter into the world on October 7th together but will probably never meet. I see men walking up and down the hallways talking to their mothers and fathers on the phone and giving them The Details (height / weight / sex) with huge smiles on their faces. I see a few couples slowly meandering the white halls, the woman with a hand in the center of her back, still expecting, her husband pulling along her IV post and I want to run up to them and say, “This is it! This is it! I just had one! I just had another one! They’re so awesome! Good luck! Congratulations! High Five! Up high! Down low! Too slow!”
The sun dips behind the horizon and our room goes dark and, like a mole or possum or vampire, the baby wakes up to feed. Midnight… 12:30…. 1:30… 2:30… the baby won’t sleep. She eats, she nods off, she wakes up. She doesn’t cry so much as she just gurgles and coos and bleats like a sheep… 3:30 and she’s still awake.
4:30 rolls around and I’m holding her in one arm and staring at the pages of a book in the other, trying not to nod off and drop her on the floor when my words from the previous night come back to haunt me, looming in the air over my head, laughing at me. I speak them out loud to Jade, “I’m so excited right now,” and she says, “Me too,” and I say, “I don’t think I could sleep… even if I wanted to…”
The following two days are filled with friends and family and dirty diapers but are, for the most part, uneventful. When we arrived back home today, my neighbor, an older gentleman from Cuba (or maybe Tokyo?) is standing in front of my house and a smile spreads across his face when he sees us. “Boy or girl?!” he shouts in his thick accent and I shout back, “GIRL!” and he claps his hands together and says, “OH! YES!” I point at the sky, a blanket of gray rain clouds, a light drizzle misting down upon us and say, “Great weather for your first day outside, huh?” and, while I love rain, I meant it more in the “It’s so dreary,” type of way but he just claps his hands together joyfully and says, “YES! RAIN! It is a celebration of life!” and I smile, having never thought about it like that before.
I shake his hand and turn around and walk into my house, baby in hand, where the rest of my life waits.