Birthday

So the nurse hands me the mask and says to put it on and trots off to her other duties.

I put the mask on and wait to be called into the operating room where Heather is being prepped. She’s only a few feet away and I wink and wave to her through the open door and think to myself that the mask is a little tight but I’m no doctor and my experience of this kind of thing is severely limited and if I try to tie it again I’ll only fuck it up anyway and then they call me in and it’s too late and there I am sitting by her head with a little hospital green fabric screen erected over her chest to separate us up at the thinking end from the action down at the plumbing end. As they start to do the caesarean, I’m whispering to her and trying to keep her calm and me calm and why is it that I think this is important; to be calm, ever so calm, even casual about the whole affair?

Maybe I don’t want to disturb the doctors or I think they’ll think I’m an asshole for getting excited about this most everyday occurrence and it’s important to be cool and maintain a sense of distracted disinterest as if I have something else on my mind; something really deep and important and if they’ll pick up the pace a little I can return to my important and impressive life which they can only imagine to have a glimpse of, these dirty little surgeons; these gory mechanics.

Did you know they use scissors to cut holes in ladies? I can’t say I’ve observed this but the sound of it is quite unmistakable. This girl at the art school where I work had a baby about four months prior to ours and her husband had left her quarantined head area and gone to the other end to watch the caesarean and had gone on and on about how cool it was to see her opened up like a fillet and all the organs and drains and pipes and conduits and junction boxes and this thing is connected to that thing and he had really wanted to do a bit of the stitching but he couldn’t convince the doctor, even as he was trying to edge him over and get in there.

This seemed a bit on the extreme side but I maintain a rather strong interest in the sciences and this crossed my obviously not busy enough mind while I was listening to the music of the scissors over the little green hospital screen and I started to wonder what was really going on over there. I mean, I might be missing the chance of a life time and not even might but definitely am and by god I’m going to go have a look at my son being born and what the insides of a live corpse look like because I am a man of science, yes science, creator and destroyer of worlds; a glimpse into, and I do mean into, one of the secrets of life, the very meaning of life. And there is no way I’m gonna let those doctors think they know something I don’t know and what with it being only just over the little green hospital screen, all I have to do is stand up and take a look. And if it’s not to scary I’ll mosey on ’round to where the action is because I belong where the action is because I am a man of science. But first I’ll take just a little peek because even though I am a man of action and a man of science it has always been the dry sciences, math and archaeology and sociology and a hand full of other ologies which did not require me to cut into anything that might put up a fight. But after all how different is one science from another? In fact, they are all one continuous inquiry with a bunch of specialists. Damn the specialists! Where are the Renaissance men? The big picture men with the big minds and the big curiosities? I’ll tell you where they are, they’re right here behind the screen and here I go to take a look, a peek, a glimpse, whatever; I will not be denied!

“I’ll be right back honey, I’m right here with youuuu”…..What the hell is that? Some blood on the sheet. I don’t see any gore. It’s just a bit of blood. I didn’t see any skin at all, the nurse was in the way. Just a bit of pinky reddy linen and man, is it warm in here or is it just me? I mean I can hardly breath! This mask is so tight I can barely pull a breath through it! A hot breath and there is no air in here! No air at all! And this mask is choking me like a noose; can’t breath. Pulling it open from the bottom trying to find some air in this vacuum and how am I going to phrase this? “Honey, I’ll be right back. I just need to go out and get a bit of air. Don’t worry. I’ll be right back.” How can I say this and put a good spin on it and where the hell is the air in here? This mask is so tight it’s like a lamprey on my mouth; like that thing in Alien when it sucks onto that guys face. It’s definitely going to look bad if I throw up in the operating room. That’ll be the end of my proving to these doctors what an interesting and learned colleague I am but the thing is I cannot breath and this mask is not only tight but getting tighter. It’s gripping my throat and crushing the bridge of my nose and I’m prying the bottom open with my left index finger in a nonchalant manner so as not to call attention to myself and I think I’ve managed to open it just enough to get a stream of oxygen molecules through when I realize that my stomach is unhappy and what was I thinking when I had breakfast? Oh yes, I remember thinking that this would be a good day to skip eating since I am rather sensitive in the tummy department but it’s way to late now but I’ll probably pass out before I hurl because I CANNOT BREATH!

At this very moment the surgeon chirps “Well, there’s his behind” and suddenly I am transported to an oxygen rich atmosphere, cool and breezy and seconds later they are handing him over their heads from hand to hand and they slide him under the heat lamps and I think to myself that this baby-warmer temperature-stabilizing unit is not only very like the french fry warmer at the fast food joint, it is the french fry warmer at the fast food joint and I wonder if anyone else has noticed this scam and I am in awe of the medical supply guy but hey, look how cool that kid is. My kid I suppose but anyway he is very very cool and he’s there and I guess I should go say hello and I do and he looks at me because he knows my voice and they stick a tube into his nose and down his throat to clear his lungs and he cries and cries until I say “it’s ok buddy” and he calms right down and the power I have over this little one becomes all too clear. I will be able to mess with him for the rest of my life.

Bedtime

I knew right away it was the beginning of the end.

He stayed in our bed for the first two years or so. I don’t think my mother approved. I believe she thought it didn’t encourage independence. She cloaked her concern by appealing to my pragmatic self-interest. The family bed didn’t sound very good if only because it interfered with “intimacy.” That conversation ended after I pointed out that the bed wasn’t the only place to get “intimate.”

No, the family bed ended because our bed faces east and west and like a live compass his head always ended up facing north. Even in a king sized bed there wasn’t enough room and I got tired of him kicking me on the way to his magnetic repose.

From the time he began staying in his own bed or at least starting out in his own bed, there was always a connection from his room to ours. Amputees talk about ghost limbs. They report that a severed limb is not only still there but itches. The mind fills in that loss. The umbilical cord is like that. At night it stretches easily from his room to ours. During the day it stretches all the way to school but its influence is diminished, wrapped and tangled as it is with all those other cords. It’s a good thing it’s only a metaphor. That influence is slow to fade. I suspect it is like a parabolic curve that forever approaches its infinity but never quite arrives.

The call would come in the night. “Mommy.” And off I would trudge to his room to bring him back into the cozy fold of our bed with a quick stop for a midnight pee on the way. Eventually he found the way on his own and really it was remarkable and exciting. A little rustling from down the hall. Like a dog that can’t quite get the right number of circles one way and then the other to find its rest. And then that sound, pad pad pad pad pad pad pad. It makes you laugh to hear it. It almost sounds human but the weight of the footfall is wrong; too improbably light. And then the hands thrown straight up in the air beside our bed. Not a word, just him standing there, arms thrust up. Not like a holdup at gunpoint. No, this is more like superman soaring up to heaven. Or like a high diver who has sprung from his board, reached the apex of his dive and is simply waiting for gravity to turn him towards his final fall into a sea of arms and covers. He never made a sound but then he never had to wait for his flight.

In his own bed he would always start out with his mother. Eventually the routine became that when he awoke and called “Mommy”, she would go lie down with him until he went back to sleep. Occasionally I would start out with him but I was not a first round draft choice. It really happened because his testing of her began to extend beyond lights out. He simply wouldn’t stop talking. She would threaten to leave but eventually threats stopped working and then she would leave and oh the laments. The crying and the sorrys. The agony seemed so real and maybe it was. Maybe they are manic-depressives when they are tired because no sooner was she back in his bed than he was excitedly chattering away again.

Enter Daddy. Bedtime disciplinarian. It worked out great because as soon as I lie down in the dark I am history. Hell, as soon as I lie down period. A book or two, lights out and that’s all. No one to talk to, no one to test. I’m already in dreamland. Half the time I would fall asleep while reading him a book. Sometimes I would drop off in the middle of a sentence and he would grab my nose or push my head to wake me. “Reeead” would come his voice through the fog. Many a time my eyes would close and I would hear myself finish a sentence all wrong; the last comprehended word having triggered some kind of random association. I would hear my voice behind the black screen of closed eyelids and think, “hey, those aren’t the words”. I would catch myself and open my eyes and we would look at each other and crack up. Sleep was never a chore and we became good at it.

Now, in the middle of the night comes the call for “Daddy”. Or the occasional “Mommy, I mean, Daddy” which his mother finds particularly galling. I go to him and we shuffle off for the midnight pee. He usually has a word or two like “let’s get cozy” or “I’m having trouble with my covers”. He lies down and I flip the sheet and cover and as they settle down over him he says “come in” like it’s a cabin in the forest. We are like two conspirators in our cuddling. He rests his head on my shoulder and I kiss his curls. When he turns over and rolls his head on to his pillow I know he’s asleep again and I return to the big bed. I am aware that eventually he will stop calling. More and more he sleeps through the night. He’s still a kid but his bladder is growing up.

Much of my parenting revolves around the awareness that he will outgrow almost everything without my help. For a short time when he was four and would ask me to carry him I would say, “No, you’re a big boy you can walk yourself.” I’m sure I thought I was teaching him to be strong but then it occurred to me that he didn’t need to be weaned from this request. Someday he was just going to stop asking and I was the one who would be alone in my regret. Carrying is just a hug in motion and soon, too soon, will come the last. Yes he’s heavy but so what. I’m strong.

And then, just a few nights ago it happened. He called for Daddy and when I came in he wouldn’t talk to me. Just a low growl. We went for a quick pee and I put him back in the bed. I straightened the covers and he grunted and didn’t make room for me. I asked him if he wanted me to stay and he grunted again and turned away. No room at the inn. I returned to the big bed and felt the strength of that cord again and that the balance of pull works in two directions. Like fishing; sometimes you pull on the fish and sometimes the fish pulls on you but in the end the big one always gets away.