Portrait of a Man

cakeThe man rocked his swaddled baby back and forth in his exhausted arms, while the baby stared up at him with two bright eyes as a curious observer.  The baby had no intention of going to sleep but he enjoyed being rocked and was willing to allow his father to continue as long as he wanted.  His daddy dimmed the lights with one hand and then turned down the volume of the tv.  He rocked and bounced and bounced and rocked until the baby’s eyes began to slowly close.     

Suddenly, the infant was asleep.  

“Success,” he whispered to his wife and mother of the boy.

“Piece of cake, really,” he said with a wink. “I’ll be back in a jif.”

He carried the bundle into the nursery and gently lowered him into his crib.  As soon as the baby’s back hit the mattress, his eyes flew open in confusion.  He never meant to fall asleep.  Fat tears spilled from his eyes and ran down both sides of his face as he cried.

Meanwhile, back on the couch his mother heard the refreshed cries and picked up the monitor.  It sat on a pillow next to her, like a prize pet with a seat of its own.  She flicked the screen, bringing it to life.  A man stood next to the crib, diligently rocking and bouncing the crying baby again.  The two did this dance every night, each trying to wear the other out until one dropped to sleep.  Fortunately, it was always same diapered, swaddled one who gave in first.  She laughed and turned off the monitor to wait. 

A few minutes later, her husband emerged shaking his head.  He pulled the door shut with a click and tiptoed back to his wife. 

“Tough little guy.”

He flopped down on the couch, letting himself sink down into the cushions knowing that he would do it all over again tomorrow.  I get to do it again, I don’t have to do it, he thought.  He was a perpetual optimist even on his worst day. 

“Listen,” he whispered.  “Did you just hear that?” he asked cupping his ear towards the nursery.

“No, I didn’t hear anything,” his wife replied in alarm and reached for the monitor again. 

“Exactly… silence.  Like I said, piece of cake.”

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Pacification

paci

The woman yanked the pacifier out of the baby’s mouth and stomped to the back door in her orthopedic, soft-soled shoes.  She unlocked the door’s double lock with two clicks; the door flew open, pushed by an invisible gust of wind that threatened to tousle the woman’s tightly permed hair.  Touching the top of her curls with a hand, she confirmed that not a hair had moved.  It was sprayed into an inflexible helmet of grey that matched her flinty personality.  

She pulled her arm back like a quarterback and let it fly, sending the pacifier into the cool, dark air of the night.  Spinning around on her heels, she turned back to her daughter and infant granddaughter.

“Don’t ever let me catch me you with something so foul and indecent in this house again.”

The door slammed shut with a bang.  Stunned by the sudden loss of her pacifier, the baby sucked in at the air as though it was still in her mouth and finding nothing there, she screamed and began to cry.  She turned red in the face as she continued to scream and big, wet tears streamed down her face, cutting a shining trail down each chubby cheek. 

“Mother,” her daughter said in disbelief raising her voice over the screaming infant.  “We just bought that for the baby.”

Dottie picked up her baby and rocked her back and forth, bringing the cries down to a whimper.  Every cell in her body longed for rest and yet there was suddenly a new surge of energy driven out of anger towards her mother.     

The front door opened and Bobby walked in with the suitcases.

“I parked the car on the side of the road…” he started and stopped.  His mother-in-law stood in front of the back door with flashing eyes and flared nostrils.  He was convinced that she was a dragon in a past life.

“What’s wrong with the baby?” he asked his wife, suspicious that his mother-in-law was somehow behind the tears of his new daughter.   

“Ahem,” his mother-in-law cleared her throat.  “Your daughter is starving and your wife is trying to trick her with that obscene rubber nipple that I took the liberty of disposing of while you were parking the car.”

Bouncing the baby in her arms, Dottie felt a swell of emotion, like an earthquake triggering a tsunami.  She was fierce in her love of her daughter and growing in her confidence as a mother.  Finally, it was her time. 

She drew herself up to her full height of five feet and two inches, took a deep breath and turned to her husband, “Bobby, please help me with the baby carrier and bag.  We aren’t staying here tonight.”   

Or at least, that’s what she wished she could have said, if they had any other place to go.

King Burrito

burrito

We swaddle our chubby baby every night in spite of his protests.  He looks like an adorable human burrito, with a dark furry head where rice and beans might otherwise be spilling out.  It’s a sight that melts our hearts and brains into a lovey-dovey mush, as I imagine all parents must feel about the cocooned shape of their infant.  Unfortunately, King Burrito doesn’t understand that swaddling is a part of the current protocol for safe infant sleeping; and instead believes he has been unjustly imprisoned and naturally fights until he drops into an exhausted, but safe, sleep.

Can you hear me yawning as I type from extreme sleep deprivation?

“Sleep when the baby sleeps,” everyone says while holding the sleeping baby which would be helpful if I could sleep on demand during the middle of the day.  Or worse yet, they say, “Let me hold the baby so you can go and throw in a load of laundry or do the dishes.”  If I wasn’t so tired, smoke would roll out of my ears.  Alas, I have even lost the energy to be angry and maybe have a puff or two of smoke worth of irritation.

In any case, who has time for sleep or anger for that matter?  I only have another four weeks before returning to work from maternity leave.  With as fast as King Burrito is developing, I fear that I will miss a major milestone and he will start talking or walking if I’m off the clock napping.  So, in the spirit of maximizing our time together, I have started to take time saving short cuts.  I do all of my banking online, the groceries get delivered to our front door, and Amazon fills in all of other gaps.

Last week, an older woman with the usual Hoosier mom garb of high wasted jeans, a turtle neck and a fuzzy vest with an IU logo delivered diapers, cat litter and the random collection of provisions for the week.  

“Someone has a baby…” she led with as I opened the door.

It was far from a lucky guess, the drool on my shirt and the screaming in the background were good clues for what she was able to deduce about the situation.  “Do you mind if I take a peek?” she asked as she stepped a foot inside and then brought the rest of her body along with the groceries. 

It was hard to say no, especially when she was bringing Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and was already in the house.  She sighed as she gazed at the crying and red-faced infant.

“I remember these days, when it was just my babies and me.  Now they’re all grown up and things are different.  Instead of rocking them, we go to Pacer’s games and drink beer together.  Enjoy this time,” she said with a knowing laugh and left for her car in the drive way.

I felt a profound sadness with her departure and the inevitability of her words.  Soon our chubby baby will be too big to swaddle.  He will sleep through the night and have friends other than his mommy and daddy and drink more than milk.  He will wear pants with zippers and shoes with laces.  And he will break his mommy’s heart as he grows up into a boy and then a man but for today, he will just be my sweet baby. 

40 Weeks or the Time Spiral

timeMy ride pulls up in front of my place of work.  It’s a busy place with a constant flow of people, ideas, goods and germs in and out of the doors.  I peel myself from the cold, cement wall that is holding me upright and waddle towards the car. 

“Hey babe, and baby.”

My husband is in the driver’s seat.  He nods at me and then at my watermelon sized belly.  I have stopped driving, no longer trusting myself to navigate even the short distance between home and work in this final week of pregnancy.

“I’ve got some bad news for you,” he says with a straight face. 

I appreciate the warning, the easing into whatever he is about to share.

“Do you want to hear it now or later?”

His fingers are wrapped around the steering wheel, positioned at 10 and 2. 

“Go ahead, I can handle it.”    

I rest my hands on top of the bump that is our unborn son who squirms under the pressure.  I am only partially listening as my mental capacity has diminished, like a reservoir with all of the water drained out with just the trickle of a creek cutting across the otherwise dry bed.     

“I did some recalculations and I think we got the due date wrong.”

He now has my full attention.  I turn to him in disbelief and horror.

“What?”

This is not what a woman who has been pregnant for close to 40 weeks wants to hear.

“Yeah, I think we still have three weeks to go.”

He flicks on the turn signal and changes lanes with a quick glance over his shoulder.

“Three weeks? Three weeks?”   

The light at the end of the gestation tunnel has suddenly grown dim; I thought we just had three more days to go of constant trips to the bathroom, swollen ankles, and an award-winning waddle.  However, with three days or three weeks as a hostage to our tiny terrorist, it’s all the same when it comes to delivering the mega-baby.  

Pain, joy and a scheduled induction if this goes a day past 40 weeks (and that’s the 40 weeks by my calculations.)

They Came Bearing Gifts

wisemenThree very different women darkened my office doorway today, all before noon, bringing stories and wisdom about childbirth. Perhaps inspired by their own history or the need to help in a helpless situation, they offered what they could and went on down the hallway to the breakroom to warm up leftovers or to have a cup of coffee.

The first woman appeared like an opening act for the trio, with the jingling of bells, wearing a red sweater and matching lightbulb earrings that swung with every movement of her head.    

“Just bringing the Christmas spirit,” she announced.

“Still here?” she asked.  “And you still haven’t delivered that baby?”

It was unclear how she missed the watermelon sized bump resting on my lap.  I wrongly assumed that stupid questions came in sets of three, so I waited for the final one before breaking the silence.

I laughed, “No, not yet.”  

“Ok, then, hang in there.”

Great advice, thanks, I thought dryly.

Only a short while later, a second woman appeared at the doorway.  She wore a turtle neck and a quilted Christmas vest, which was just a slight variation from her usual vest. 

“Hey there,” she greeted me and then came into the office without an invitation.

“I was almost a Christmas baby,” she started. 

Her tiny eyes peered out from behind thick lenses, neither blinking nor breaking her stare.  She had the hint of a wicked smirk on her upturned lips as she continued.

“But my mother was in labor for four days and blew right past the 25th.  She told me that every time I came down the birth canal and saw the light, I went back inside and waited.”

“What a horrible story,” I gasped unable to hide my horror.  I felt my jaw drop and had to consciously pull it back up from the floor. 

“Don’t worry,” she reassured me with her creepy, un-breaking stare.

“She said I was the best baby after that ordeal.  My brother, on the other hand, was an easy delivery and turned out to be the worst baby.”

More great insight, I thought. 

“Thanks for clearing that up.” 

She shuffled off with a nod, happy to have been so helpful.

I was still reeling from the thought of being in labor for four days when the third visitor appeared, the boss of my supervisor, making rounds through the offices.  She gave me a warm smile and leaned against the doorframe.

“How are you feeling?” she asked with genuine interest.

 “Nervous and ready,” I replied, as a woman of few words.

She nodded in understanding, “This will be something that will change you forever.  You will tell your delivery story for the rest of your life.  It will change you in ways that I cannot even begin to describe and it is just the beginning, a rite of passage into the next phase of life.” 

“My only advice is to turn off your phone after delivery, unplug the hospital phone, and just focus on being with your baby and tune out the rest of the world.   You only get to do it one time.”

She winked and turned to leave, but suddenly stopped, “Oh, and send me a text so I know you will be out of work for a while.” 

 

Hurry up and wait.

docs office

A white, plastic-capped specimen container filled half-way with a clear liquid was next to a tiny, disposable spatula on a square of paper towel on top of the ceramic counter.  I recognized the container and label stuck to the front; it was clearly a sample from the last patient’s appointment. 

“It appears that they forgot to pick things up before bringing us back,” I exclaimed with distaste.  

At least the paper liner was clean and unwrinkled, I thought as I plopped my heavy body down and crinkled the perfectly smooth, white sheet.  I cringed at the waste; the paper would never be the same or used again, destined for the trash as soon as we left.  

My husband sat next to the counter on a low chair and looked over towards the used test kit.  His view was partially blocked by a white bottle with blue print; it was a lubricant with the cap hanging off by a plastic tab. 

“That bottle of lube is staring at me in the face,” he said in a tone between horror and disgust. “And it’s still open.”   

There was something threatening about that seemingly abandoned bottle of medical lubricant, like sitting next to a smoker in a non-smoking section.  My man was desperate for an intervention, but unsure from where it might come, so he stared up at the ceiling, unsure of where else to look. 

He glanced down at the clock on his phone once, twice and once again.

“Do you have someplace that you need to be?” I asked.

Sheepishly, he nodded, “I only took half an hour off for this appointment.”

I didn’t mean to, but I laughed out loud, the very definition of LOL.  I would have gone so far as to ROTFLOL if I could have easily gotten down from the table.  He was a perpetual optimist, always seeing the best in others, planning for success and positivity.  The laughter bubbled up directly from the well of my soul, apparently located in my stomach next to the extra-large baby and kept bubbling up.  

“What doctor’s appointment has ever taken thirty minutes?”  

Every doc’s appointment I have ever attended followed the same script.  Check in and wait, meet with the RN and wait, sit in a room and wait and wait and wait.  

“I didn’t know how long it would take,” he explained, shrugging off my LOL’ing.

“Ok then, let’s hurry up and wait.” 

We will wait together for the next four months to pass, wanting time to slow to a stop and speed up all at once, uncertain as to what the future holds and yet as prepared as possible for life, together, as we become three. 

 

What’s in a name?

name

When we heard the baby was on the way, we waited nervously for the phone to ring all night.  I turned my ringer all the way up, just to make sure that I didn’t miss the call.  Periodically, I checked for a missed call and was continually disappointed by the lack of activity.  It could be hours before we had any news, but still I checked every few minutes for an update.  Separated by thousands of miles and an ocean, this was the closest that we could get to the soon-to-be parents and their bundle of joy.  

Random text messages from friends came in with push notifications from facebook which were quickly dismissed without notice.  We were waiting on a baby and couldn’t be distracted by social media and questions about the weekend.

Finally, a picture arrived with a ding like a kitchen timer going off to pull a tray of cookies from the oven.

A perfect pink baby boy was in the center of the screen with a wisp of reddish gold hair, arriving in a text message without words or a caption.  His image was enough until I realized that the picture was without a name, weight or length.  Additional messages and calls went unanswered and the baby boy remained without a name for the next 12 hours.

Could he be a Byron, Ryan, Thadeus or Drake? A Zander, Adam, Corn-Nut, or Ray-Ray?  

What’s in a name, anyways?  A rose is rose is a rose, after all.

It can create the first impression of a person, carrying the power to normalize or ostracize.  A name can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, shaping a child into the adult foreseen by their parents, likely why there aren’t many Corn-Nuts out there.  It is a gift that can last a lifetime and must be carefully considered and given.

The pressure to make decisions is heavy on parents-to-be, they must decide between breast milk and formula, to vaccinate or not to vaccinate, daycare, nanny or stay-at-home mommy (let’s get real, who can afford to stay home).  Some decision are made for them based on income and availability, but perhaps the greatest responsibility in which a parent has absolute power is in picking the right name (a close second is vaccination).

So when the next text came with another ding, our nephew had a name.  It fit him and would take him from infancy into his manhood with little room for silly rhyming nicknames or negative associations.  He suddenly became a real boy, not just an adorable anonymous baby, and soon-to-be cousin to another yet unnamed babe back home in Indiana.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.” 

William Shakespeare

 

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