Normally I’d consider myself to be a patient person. I find there are far too many interesting distractions and means of filling the space between plainly noteworthy events to bother being too preoccupied with getting to the next. But as pertains to the upcoming birth process, which we are now 12 days prior to the “scheduled” date—which is, as I understand it, at best an educated guesstimate—I find myself lacking my usual sense of casual ease regarding anticipation.
I think there are a couple of things contributing to this but one of them is my wife, she-who-bears-the-child, who is beyond done with the proceedings and ready to have it over. She’s been an absolute champion of womanly strength and courage throughout the ordeal, from her vindictive morning sickness in the first trimester through her pelvic pain due to symphysis pubis dysfunction. It’s not that she’s annoying me with her persistent drive to have the delivery process begin but rather it is her desperate race to feel “ready” prior to that event that runs counter to my ability to shrug my way through the process.
It manifests via a series of lists, starting with the Master To-Do List. It’s relative brevity is misleading, these dozen or so line items are ultra high level overviews of nuanced projects which, in most organizations, would require several project managers, small but efficient teams of 20-30, an oversight committee reporting directly to a steering committee and a staff of support personnel including administrative associates and filing clerks. Each entry in the Master To-Do List has a sub-list which spans several pages including multi-step action items and firm deadlines for completion. There are charts which map out efficient travel routes between build sites and resource acquisition areas, which is important because all items have a mandatory environmental impact and budgetary concerns report attached, which must be strictly adhered to.
Each of these projects is intended to facilitate the arrival of our bundle of joy, although sometimes the line connecting point A (completion of the To-Do item) and point B (utility to an infant) is insubstantial and hard to comprehend, like string theory. I know I’m more of the brawn than the brains and my distinction as such was already in considerable doubt, but when you’re standing in a pile of splintered wood that was at one point a packing crate and crawling into a dumpster to mash down the contents so you can fit the 423rd Amazon.com box inside, you lose a little focus on the big picture and can’t help but wonder what a partially developed human could possibly need that requires this much cardboard.
There was a point this past weekend where Nik expressed a desire to take a break from our List attendant proceedings and for a moment I allowed a look of dissatisfaction to cross my face which sent her off into a torrent of teary incoherence. I think my performance as a supportive husband during the pregnancy has been adequate to acceptable (somewhere in the B/B+ range if one was grading generously) but I do prove to be expertly capable in making my wife cry which she typically—in retrospect at least—attributes to the hormones. I’m not necessarily convinced and hormones or no, there are few more reliable ways of identifying oneself as a class-A heel than by reducing a pregnant woman to tears. In any case I reassured her that I wasn’t upset that she needed to take a break or annoyed that she wasn’t as capable of powering through as she used to be or that I was disgusted by her baby-bearing appearance as she postulated. I’m not sure how that last one slipped into her rolodex of possible causes for my inconsideration but it must weigh heavily on her mind because she presents it as a possibility for practically everything I do, including activities that have absolutely no bearing on her whatsoever. It goes like this:
Nik: “Do you want a bite of this cookie?”
Me: “No, thanks.”
Nik: “Is it because I’ve put on weight?”
Me: “What!? No!”
Nik: “Then why?”
Me: “Because I don’t want any cookie?”
Nik: “So you think I shouldn’t eat it either, then.”
Me: “I didn’t say that! I think you look wonderful! I don’t care what you eat!”
Nik: “Because it’s too late for me? Is that what you’re saying!?”
Me: “I’d love a bite.”
Once I had her calmed down I reassured her I had only been temporarily disheartened by her need for our fifth break in the last hour because I just wanted to get the project done. She asked if there was such a thing as husband-nesting syndrome. I didn’t understand and she triumphantly parroted what I had just said about just wanting to get it done as if that were the critical shred of evidence that exonerated an innocent man accused of a grisly triple murder. I opened my mouth to explain that it wasn’t that at all and in fact I just wanted to get it done because I was hoping that if I crossed at least one item off the Master To-Do List I would be granted a reprieve from comparing shades of pink and learning the ins and outs of bottle assemblage, storage, cleaning and warming at least long enough to watch the last half of SportsCenter. Instead I closed my mouth, swallowed and said, “Well, I don’t know. But I bet I have it!”
The truth is, I really do want to have the preparations complete. My problem is that the closer we get to arriving in this mythical locale known as “Done” (Population: 0) the more immediate our proximity to that thumb-twiddling place of “just hoping it happens soon before the mom-to-be finally loses it and performs a home c-section on herself with a pair of poultry shears.” What I fear is that we’ll be the first people in the history of the world to actually have nothing else to accomplish before the baby arrives weeks in advance and we’ll have nothing to do or talk about other than the fact that she’s not yet in labor.
Me: “So… are you in labor yet?”
Nik: Pauses. “No.”
Me: “Oh. Bummer.”
Me: “Hey, remember when we finished the nursery?”
Nik: “I do.”
Me: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a baby to put in there?”
Nik: “Um, yeah.”
Me: “So, are you in labor now?”
Nik: “Why don’t you wait at the hospital?”
Yet at the same time I’m pushing for these things to be completed because the alternative is so much worse. I know at this juncture that if Callie did decide to arrive in the next few days we’d have ample place for her to sleep, plenty of means of feeding and clothing her and sufficient material to avoid having her just poop on the carpet for me to clean up later with paper towels (we pretty much leave that to the cat). Frankly, we’ve been at the stage where we could be classified as technically prepared for her arrival for over a month now. But from Nik’s perspective there would be no greater catastrophe than having her show up without having a vinyl cutout of her name adhered to the wall over her crib, unless of course she were to arrive and we didn’t have a bouncy seat for her to sit in covered in brightly colored jungle creatures that vibrated, played tinny electronic versions of classic lullabies and emitted “realistic rainforest noises” that sounded curiously identical to a guy peeing into a urinal.
It’s just that the dichotomy of wanting to help Nik finish her list so I can stop spending my weekends feeling frantically pressed for time and the fear of actually accomplishing what we set out to do and having to spend the next two or three weeks drumming our fingers creates a sense of unease I’ve never known. I’ve never been so excited for something to happen and so fearful of it at the same time. I want to savor the time we have left but I’ve never been the kind of person to wade slowly into the shallow end of a cool swimming pool: I prefer the one shocking rush of the deep-end dive.
The other element is honestly that the impending paternity leave I have coinciding (shockingly!) with my paternal initiation represents my sole vacation time this year, and in fact represents a good half of my vacation time for next year as well. As progressive as my employer is on some issues, they lag behind in granting leave for fathers so I have had to scrounge and scrape together as much time off as I could from various channels and as a result I’ve worked for months with only a handful of standard US holidays to provide reprieve. At least my daughter had the courtesy of agreeing to be conceived last winter so I was able to take the time off in the doldrums of August. But I won’t lie: I’m so ready for some time away from work.
It’s strange to think of this as a vacation because my mental image of the next eight weeks or so don’t involve a lot of relaxation and all accounts suggest the first few months are fairly drastically weighted toward the SUPER INSANE CRAZY end of the spectrum on the Life Transitional Stage scale. But it will also be the longest stint of active non-work since I began my “career” over ten years and that includes a year of spotty employment earlier this century. I have family coming out during that period which I’m very excited about both because I’m delighted for them to meet the newest family member and also because I so rarely get to see any of them. In many ways this is the ideal work furlough for a nerdy homebody such as myself: No buffering days for extended travel, no short-term jump in extra expense, no unreasonable expectations to meet, no trying to cram sufficient amounts of organized “fun” into a day to meet an imaginary quota. Just family, friends and a new chapter of our lives.