Thursday, October 30, 2008


In Which We Count to 10...

My son, my first-born, the amazing Art Lad: He turned 10 today.

This thought brought me quickly awake at about 5 this morning and I just laid there, letting it run through my head.

Ten years old. Oh, my holy God.

I cannot tell you how thrilled my 30-year-old self would have been to hear this, back in the fall of 1998, when he lay awake at around 5 in the morning in an antiseptic hospital room, where he had been staring up at the ceiling, listening to every sound around him. His wife was snoring a few feet away, absolutely exhausted from not having slept in the previous 48 hours, on top of performing the hardest, most strenuous act he had ever seen anyone, man or woman, perform. But he wasn’t really listening to her.

No, MM30 was listening to the small, soft, unending series of grunts and farts and groans emanating from the crib on wheels that sat between him and his bride; the transparent little hospital crib containing his first-born. So loud, he thought. No one told me how loud these little people were.

No one told him a lot of things. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that never in the history of the species has any one human being ever been so singularly unprepared to care for an infant, and my 30-year-old self was only too painfully aware of that fact. Which is why he would have been thrilled to have his 40-year-old counterpart reach across the years and let him know a double-digit birthday party was about to be underway. MM30 frankly didn’t think he had it in him to keep a child alive for 10 days, let alone 10 years.

Twenty-three hours earlier, he had been sobbing with relief as he watched his son pop into the world. He had watched without blinking as his wife swore and grunted and pushed and out from her nethers extruded something that looked like a giant wad of grape bubblegum. With ears. He had been alarmed at first, his first thought (though he promised never to tell anyone what that first thought was) was Something’s wrong. What the hell is that thing? But then the wad of bubblegum breathed and turned a magical pink color and began screaming and instantly MM30 was oriented as to the facial features of his child. And then his wife groaned and strained and did a little more work and out came the rest, including a hormone-swollen item of genitalia that prompted the doctor to say, “It’s a boy!” Which no one had really known until then. And as exciting as all this was, it was the relief that reduced MM30 to tears, the knowledge that his child had crossed the threshold and made it into this world.

But now the euphoria had worn off like a sugar rush, and all MM30 could think about was how wrong he’d been to be relieved. After all, the kid was safest back in the womb. Now that he was out in the world, there were countless dangers lying in wait for him. And granted, MM30 wouldn’t be alone in taking care of him, but he did feel that the baton had been passed. Her Lovely Self had done the first, hardest lap, carrying that kid for 9 months, growing him like a hothouse flower, sacrificing coffee and chocolate martinis and stylish underwear and every other manner of comfort to ensure his well-being. Now it’s my turn, he realized, once he’d dried his tears of relief. And I am so TOTALLY going to fuck it up. Relief?!? What the hell had MM30 been thinking?

So he was awake, worrying about all the possible dangers that lay ahead, understanding for the first time how it was that his own mother could have spent all those years, all those car drives to school, drilling him and his brother in various assorted disaster scenarios, scaring the living daylights out them. Now he saw that it was a coping mechanism for her, probably the only way she could step one toe out the door with her children and still function.

MM30 got up. There were no extra beds on the maternity ward, so MM30 was sleeping on a vinyl-upholstered recliner that flattened out into a kind of cot. A cot roughly 18 inches wide. Every time he moved, he bumped an elbow against one of the chair’s armrests, which loomed up on either side of him and made him feel like he was trying to sleep in a coffin. It was nearly pitch-black in the room, except for a line of light coming from under the bathroom door, a general glow of streetlamps from the window on the other side of his wife’s bed, and a few blinking lights from the control panel by his wife’s head. On a shelf above those lights, and all around the floor behind his reclining chair, he could see tons and tons of flowers sent by well-wishers: some in vases, some in ceramic choo-choo trains or piggy-banks. Some weren’t bouquets of flowers but of helium balloons, which were slowly drifting apart and scattering throughout the room.

He stared down now at the darkened plastic crib, tilted slightly upright on a rolling gurney just in front of him. He could make out a tightly wrapped shape that put him in mind of a very large burrito. Except the burrito was making all those grunting noises. My son, he thought, tasting the words in his mind.

He leaned into the transparent crib, breathing in the smell of the baby. As he leaned, his eyes gradually became accustomed to the faint light and he could discern more of him: the wisp of black hair on the baby’s forehead, the edge of the blanket he was wrapped in. Then something waved in front of him and he realized it was a tiny, perfect hand, worked free from its blanketed confines. In wonder, MM30 extended his own hand, stuck out an index finger. The tiny, perfect hand waggled around in the air, brushing once against his finger, then a second time, then with surprising speed and strength, it grasped his finger and squeezed.

So strong, MM30 thought. I didn’t expect that. He took some comfort in this revelation. It gave him hope that maybe, just maybe, his child had reserves yet unknown to him, and that he could draw on these reserves and survive--perhaps even thrive--despite his father’s worst moments of incompetence.

As he thought about this, his son’s eyes opened, alert and casting about in the dark. The nurse said he could see pretty well at close range, so MM30 leaned in until he was nose-to-nose.

"Your name is Thomas," MM30 said.

The baby stared at him now, unblinking, his attention undivided.

"I’m your Dad. Sorry about that, but I think you’ll turn out okay anyway. Grandma--you’ll meet her in a few hours--said our family never failed to improve itself genetically with each new marriage, so I think you got some good stuff to work with. But I’m gonna do what I can to help out. And I apologize in advance if I screw up every now and then. I’m gonna watch out for you, okay? And I’m gonna try to make sure you get all the things a boy needs these days. Not video games and action figures--although I think I can rustle that up--but the other stuff. And if I seem a little jumpy right now, well, it’s because I am. You’re the most important thing I’ve ever had to be responsible for, by a wide, wide margin. Before you, it was a kitten, and before that, it was a Venus flytrap. So this is a major trade-up and I just want to make sure nothing happens to you. Bear with me. Okay?”

Thomas stared back, his big wide eyes gazing intently, seemingly at a point past the up-close face of his father. He seemed to be staring into his father, maybe trying to decide who this person was, and whether or not he was safe to be around. But in a moment, he must have decided he was safe enough, because the baby blinked a couple of times, shifted in his blankets enough to emit a fart that sounded like distant fireworks, then closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

MM30 watched him, incapable of not watching him at this point. God, whatever bad things are coming down the pike, bring them on me, please. Not this baby. Not my son. Deal? he prayed.

Which turned out to be a fitting thing to pray for. Because a second later, MM30 turned around to get back into his recliner bed...

And found himself face-to-face with an intruder.

MM30 had spent the previous 9 months reading about all manner of baby-snatchings, the most daring of which had been when the snatchers crept into the rooms of the exhausted new parents and plucked the infants out of their cribs--sometimes even out of a new mother’s arms. Now here was one, right in his family's hospital room.

The intruder was big. He loomed a head taller than MM30, and seemed to bob and weave in front of him with an easy, taunting grace. His eyes were blackest black and he wore a huge, hideous super-villain grin. But he hadn’t expected MM30 to be awake, and the new dad realized that this gave him the element of surprise, which he could expect to have for only a few seconds longer. He had to act. He had to save his baby. So he drew back his fist and, screaming as loud as he could for help, let fly with a punch that nearly dislocated his shoulder.


Pow. MM30’s punch connected, although it didn't feel like a solid hit. There was a loud crackling crunch as the intruder’s nose collapsed in on itself. The intruder jerked backward, almost in slow motion. But he didn’t fall. That was bad.

“YYYYYYYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!” MM30 screamed again, swinging, grasping, clawing. The intruder’s face seemed to be retreating into the darkness. MM30 lunged and he and his assailant fell over the recliner.

At that moment, the nurse on call burst in and flicked on the light.

MM30 didn’t get to see the look on the nurse’s face at that moment, but I imagine it was one of the great all-time looks of bafflement, as she beheld Her Lovely Self, bolt upright in bed, only just awakened by her husband’s caterwauling, and no doubt sharing a baffled look of her own as she stared across the room at the spectacle of her husband, in his underwear, splayed across a pink vinyl recliner.

Wrestling with a helium balloon in the shape of a jack-o-lantern.

(Well, hey, it was dark.)

(And I was really tired.)

But you want to know the best part?

Thomas slept through the whole thing.


“What are you laughing at, Dad?”

I blinked in the darkness and realized that my son was laying in bed next to me.

“Oh, must have dozed off. What time is it?” I asked.

He turned his head and stared at the illumined face of the bedside clock. “It’s almost...wait...okay! It’s 6:16! I’m 10!! I’m officially 10!!” He bounced in bed. Next to him, his mother groaned. At our feet, Blaze grunted, then kicked us with his paws. Somewhere down the hall, I could hear the Éclair shouting for her sister to come get her. A new day was dawning at the Magazine Mansion.

Thomas flailed and pumped his fist in the air for a moment longer. “Ten! I’m 10!!” he shouted, then settled back into the bed again, suddenly sober. “Wow. Can you believe I made it to 10, Dad?” he asked.

I got nose to nose with him, looked him in the eye.

“Buddy, I never doubted for one second that you would.”

Happy birthday, Thomas.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Happy Birthday Thomas!!!

Your friend,
Operawife (formerly SassyGirl)
Happy Birthday Thomas!
For Thomas -hope you have the bestest birthday ever! And to your Dad, gosh I do wish you would put a disclaimer or announcement of some sort up at the beginning of posts along these lines -"Kleenex may be needed. Some sentimentality ahead!"
But aside from that this brought tears to my eyes, I also have to admit you totally cracked me up with the helium baloon fight!
I'm willing to bet that that story is one the nurse has told over and over again throughout her career.

Happy 10th Birthday Thomas!
Happy birthday Thomas!! Welcome to the double digits! It only gets better from here.

And MM? I agree with jeni on this one. You need Vomit Warnings AND Kleenex Warnings.
*sniff* he's as lucky to have you as you are to have him.

happy birthday, thomas!
Love it - those overwhelming feelings of "how the hell am I going to keep this baby alive" and "I will throw myself in front of any danger (or jack o'lantern) to protect you".

Happy Birthday, Thomas. You got lucky being born into having Her Lovely Self and MM for parents. Not as lucky as the lot they drew having you, ha.
Another Happy Birthday Thomas!

That was the best new Dad speech I ever heard.

I couldn't muster words of wisdom like that. I was too busy pulling my hair out and shouting "Where are the fucking directions? Don't they come with DIRECTIONS?!"!"
happy birthday artlad!

great story...funny piss-your-pants laughing ending, but great story that really captures that awe of new parenthood.
Happy Birthday Thomas!!!
Happy Birthdday Thomas! Wow, 10years old, it's a whole new world from here.
We went to Lamaze class for 3 of our 4 kids' birth preparations. What I remember the most about the first one (which I thought was a waste of time & money, especially when we got into the breathing techniques) was that at the end, we watched a video where they showed a birth & the kid came out blue. I was like "hot damn!" that was worth the $60 class fee right there. I would have FREAKED in the delivery room without that tiny bit of knowledge. Thank you Lamaze!

Happy Bday to Thomas!

A truly classic MM moment, there. Thanks for sharing. And pass my birthday wishes along to Thomas.
OMG what a funny story. That's hillarious!

Happy Birthday Thomas!

So... after the great quest for Ahsoka Tano, was he impressed you were able to find her?
Happy Birthday, Thomas!

Great story...
What a great story!!! :) Happy Birthday, Thomas :)

Happy Birthday!

(I know this is late, but I didn't have a chance to see this until today, 11/7.)
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