“Your life will change forever…” (1 day to go)

Last night’s dream:

I’m about to leave the office when a researcher comes by and says he needs immediate help with the “100% computing” project, which has just been approved. (I have never heard of this project, but I always try to be helpful, even if it is not in my area.) He walks to the room across from my office, but no one is there so he comes into my office. “I need your help,” he says.

“Unfortunately,” I say, “Well, unfortunately for you, I am about to leave. I’m getting married. No, I’m already married. I’m having a baby tomorrow!”

And so we are. As I write this, it is 26 hours before our scheduled C-section. We are having a baby tomorrow! (The phrase, “having a baby” sounds awkward now. We already have the baby; he’s simply in storage at this point, and he’s coming out of storage tomorrow–which doesn’t sound any better.) The whole idea has become more abstract over the last week or so, which is a bit surprising as I had expected it to become more real in my mind. Despite the obvious signs, it is still hard to imagine that we’ll have a baby to take care of tomorrow. It’s caused a flurry of vignette-like thoughts about the past and future to pass through my mind, as though I’m bouncing around in time.

35 years ago, roughly this time in June: I’m sitting at a small wooden table in the family room of our house in Somerset, New Jersey. My feet barely reach the blue tiled floor. The table is off toward one corner of the room, kind of near where the front windows are. There’s a pack of crayons on the table and some paper, and my uncle is teaching me how to color with my left hand. (I was already clearly right-handed at this point.) There is some commotion and I realize that some people are coming to the front door. It’s my mom and dad, and with them, they have my new baby brother…

If there is a common phrase that all parents seem to use with respect to the birth of a first child, the most frequently used phrase is most certainly, “Your life will change forever.” I’ve already written about the ambiguity of this statement. It implies both the good and the bad. But it is also a blatantly obvious statement. I’m not sure how anyone could go through the 40 weeks preceding the birth of a child and think that their life would ever be the same. It is also a vague statement. How much change? How quickly? I can’t help asking these questions. It’s in my nature. I need some kind of baseline to judge the amount of change. There are ways of doing this.

  • Sleep. In the week before Zachary’s arrival, I averaged 9.5 hours of sleep each night. My actual average is probably less than this. It’s skewed by the fact that I got 13 hours of sleep on Friday night.
  • Reading. I’ve read, on average 30 books per year in the 14 years preceding Zachary’s birth. Since books vary in length, you can say that on average, I’ve read about 5 million words per year.
  • Writing. Despite my best efforts, I only manage to complete 2 or 3 stories a year. I’ve sold two stories. I’ve got two in the works.

I’m sure there are other subtle changes, but these are some solid metrics that I can look at say, a year from now, and see just how much my life has changed, at least with respect to how much time I spend on these things.

We were finally home from just about the best day of my life. We’d gone to the Hayden Planetarium and I got a first hand look at the cosmos in a way that I’d never seen it before. I might only be five or six years old, but I already considered myself a professional astronomer, at least among my circle of friends, all of whom were amateurs at best. I even got a toy at the museum gift shop: a model of a 747 with a space shuttle that hooked to it’s back. I mean, how cool is that! We were walking toward the front door of the house and I stopped my Dad. “Daddy,” I said, “I have a question.”

“What is it?”

“I know that when boys grow up they start calling their Daddy’s ‘Dad’. But I was wondering if it was okay if I always called you ‘Daddy’?”

Last night, I cleaned the house in preparation for Zach’s arrival. I vacuumed the entire house. I cleaned all three bathrooms. I cleaned out the litter boxes and took out the trash. I mopped the floors in the kitchen and bathroom. All the while, I listed to my “Road Trip” playlist on my iPod. And I sang along with the songs the entire time. When I was finishing up, it occurred to me that it would be a little while before I’d be able to do that again. With a baby in the house, I’d have to learn to suppress my natural urge to sing out loud. After all, babies tend to sleep a lot and I wouldn’t want to wake him up. In fact, my natural speaking voice can quickly grow loud when I grow excited or enthusiastic about something. I’ll have to be much more aware of that now than I ever was before.

I loved Milton the Monkey. In my Kindergarten class, we learned the alphabet through a wonderful flip-chart story about the adventures of Milton the Monkey. Each page was an adventure for Milton, and his adventures always ended up with us learning a new letter of the alphabet: what it looked like and how it sounded. It turned out to be not only fun, but pretty easy. After all, the letter almost always sounded like the name off the letter. An ‘A’ made an ‘ah’ sound; a ‘B’ made a ‘buh’ sound. It couldn’t have been long after this that I was sitting in the dining room of our New Jersey house, leaning up against a wall near the linen closet with a book in my lap. I remember looking at the words in the book and seeing lots of letters. A whole lot of letters! I thought back to Milton the Monkey and how the letters made sounds. The first group of letters I tried stymied me: T-H-E. Tuh-hee. Tuh-hee! The problem was I didn’t recognize any word that sounded like tuh-hee. I figured it was an adult word, shrugged my shoulders and moved on to another one: L-O-V-E. I tried sounding it out: Luh-oh-vee. That didn’t sound right, but I already knew from some of the older kids that sometimes an E was silent at the end of a word. So I tried again. Luh-ove. Nope. Try again. Luh-ove. Luhove. Luhove. I had not idea what luhove was. But I did know what “luv” was. Could it be that L-O-V-E sounded like LUV? Somehow, I knew this was right, and I grew incredibly excited. I’d just learned how to read my first word. And I was still in kindergarten!

I sometimes wonder if certain aspects of parenting will be easier for us that it was for our parents. Zachary will be a true digital native, for instance. In fact, tomorrow, June 12, analog TV signals go away, replaced by all-digital signals. While the digital age has happened in my lifetime, I can remember some years before ever having a computer, a cellular phone, an iPod, a DVR, a GPS. For Zachary, it will be different. He will certainly have a cellular phone–or whatever the future equivalent is. Social networking systems, like Loopt, for instance, will likely be more sophisticated over time. When he goes out with friends, it will be easy to know his exact location at any moment, without intruding upon him. This must certainly add a layer of security to the worry that every parent must experience when their children are away from home. On the other hand, I think of myself as pretty technically sophisticated, but I can foresee the say (despite being a science fiction writer!) when Zachary turns to me in dismay, shaking his head and muttering, “iPhones are so 2025, Dad. When are you going to get a BrainChip?”

Kelly and I hoped to get to the movies one last time before Zach was born. We wanted to go see Up. But who knows when we’ll get to the movies again. And so the last movie that I saw in the theater, prior to being a father will have been Star Trek. I have an odd fascination with these “lasts and firsts”. I’ve often wondered, for no good reason, what the last meal my parents had was before I was born. That I have a diary (and blog) makes it easy to reflect on some of these things. My last lunch with work friends, Todd and Karl, prior to Zach’s arrival, was yesterday. We had sushi. The last book that I finished was Ray Bradbury’s We’ll Always Have Paris. The book that I am reading now (at the time Zach will be born) is Jack McDevitt’s Polaris. The last place we traveled to was Richmond, Virginia for the RavenCon science fiction convention. The last time I took a plane trip was in March, to Santa Monica, for a work retreat. I don’t see all my friends enough. We’re too scattered. I saw Eric back in February. I saw Andy and Lisa back in March. I saw Dan and Megan in October. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Norm and Vicky. I don’t see my brother and sister enough. I saw Jen and Jason in May. But it was back in October when I saw Doug and Rachel. The next time I see all of them I’ll be a dad.

Alternate-future history: “The taxi just pulled up out front,” I say to Kelly, watching the three people climb out of the cab and walk slowly toward the front of our townhouse. Kelly reaches into the crib to scoop up Zachary, who is celebrating his 15 day birthday today. I dash down the stairs, skipping three steps at a time, and throw open the front door. Mom and Dad are standing there smiling, hugs all around. And standing there with them, a silly grin on his face, is Grandpa. He reaches for me with his unusually long arms and gives me a hug. We all go upstairs, where Kelly is waiting with Zachary.

“Mom and Dad,” I say, “meet your grandson, Zachary.” Everyone hovers around, making much of the startled little guy, who, all things considered, is holding up pretty well. “Grandpa,” I say, “you know what you and your great-grandson share in common?”

“What’s that?” he says.

“Well, your name is Paul and his middle name is Paul.”

I wait for a witty response from him, but none is forthcoming.  He can’t seem to get any words past the tears.

There is something surreal about the whole experience of becoming a Dad–or a parent for that matter.  For 37 years I have been a spectator–and sometimes a color-commentator–to the whole sport of parenting.  The best way that I can describe it is that parents seem like a different species to me.  I don’t mean this in any negative way, I simply mean a parent seems so different from my world that I find it incredibly difficult to imagine myself in that position.  It’s like trying to imagine myself in my cat’s position.  The comprehension simply isn’t there.  There is also something existential about entering an operating room as a husband and leaving it an hour later as a husband and a father.  I’ve found over the last two days that I may not be able to maintain my usual calm, objective self.  Thinking about Zach’s impending arrival while cleaning the house last night, I found myself on more than one occasion on the verge of tears.  But I take that as a good sign.  Biology is a remarkable thing, and perhaps the greatest experiment that two people can perform is taking two cells and eventually turning them into a relatively well-behaved college graduate.  That we have the power to do this is remarkable.  It’s what makes history so fascinating.  Everything we do and everything we know is because, at some point two people introduced a pair of cells to one another…

Sunday morning breakfast.  Mom made pancakes and they were now stacked neatly the brown pancake-warmer.  The four of us sat around the kitchen table.  It’s possible this was the day that I ate 50 1/2-dollar-sized pancakes.  I’m not sure.  My memory isn’t that good.  We’d found out not too long ago that Mom was going to be having another baby.  Everyone thought that this one would be another boy, but I was certain it would be a girl.  My reasoning was quite simple:  my odds of picking something different was equal to the odds of everyone else, so why not?  Always curious, I asked a simple question at that breakfast.  I don’t remember exactly how it was worded.  I might have said, “Mom, where do babies come from?”  Or I might have asked, “How are babies made?”  I tend to think I asked the former since there was nothing in my store of knowledge that babies were in any way “made”.  They simply grew in Mom’s tummy until they were ready to come out.  So there it was, “Where to babies come from?”

I remember my Mom’s answer, though.  She said, “When we decide we want another baby, your Dad puts a pill in my tea and soon after that the baby starts to grow.”

Looking back on it, I find that it is a very apt metaphor.  Unfortunately, as a 6-1/2 year old boy, I knew nothing of metaphor, and I am embarrassed to admit how long I believed that my Mom’s answer was the literal truth.  Most kids pick up the basic facts of life “in the gutter”.  A few years later, I learned the basics “in the gutter” after insisting to some friends that my Mom’s description of baby-making was scientifically accurate.  (Back then, I was not know for my sagacity.)

Today is my last day at work for 2 weeks.  The next time I am back in the office, I’ll be a Dad.  Kelly will be a Mom.  Our cats will have a new younger sibling.  Our parents will be grandparents all over again.  Our siblings will have a new nephew.  Our nieces and nephews will have a new cousin.  My Grandpa used to say that family was the most important thing.  He saw things through rose-colored glasses.  Family could be frustrating.  They could be just as silly as anyone else.  But I’m beginning to see what he meant, I think.

So what do I think about our lives changes forever tomorrow?  I’m not too worried about it.  I think we’re prepared.  We’ve had good teachers.  I’m just so excited for Zach’s arrival.  But setting aside that excitement, I suppose I could best describe how I feel by quoting the Eagles:

“I’ve got a peaceful, easy feeling.”


Originally published at From the Desk of Jamie Todd Rubin. You can comment here or there.