On the Infant Front

If you’ve ever wondered why your parents are crazy, I happen to have stumbled across the answer: They are all suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In one of those deliciously wicked twists of design, appreciable mostly by those of us who collect and consume irony as if it were artisan cheese of the most rancid and pungent varieties, the source of that trauma is in fact children themselves. The execution of this assault on parental sanity occurs upon a child’s arrival into the world and lasts basically as long as children are incapable of forming any lasting memories thus ensuring that they emerge from the ordeal basically amnesic while their mothers and fathers remain haunted shells of their former selves. As such, children are left to wonder what force on Earth could have made their parents such complete lunatics, fully unaware that the madness that plagues their own existences is in fact self-wrought.

The techniques employed by the welcomed invaders are classic, really. Sleep deprivation is a legitimate form of torture but it really is just a softening tactic in this particular application, a way to pave the road for the true torment yet to come. I mean, you can set off a bomb in a building but if you want to bring the whole thing down, you need to first weaken the foundations. What happens with babies is not a sort of constant annoyance the way you might expect where they, for example, cry for protracted periods of time. After all, the goal here is to inflict psychological damage rather than merely focusing on brute force sleeplessness. Instead the assault comes in the form of a series of intermittent wails which vary in volume, duration, and pattern such that you can perpetually be lured into the false notion that relief is imminent.

Being sleep deprived is a state I’m familiar with. Large portions of my life have been spent with self-inflicted exhaustion due to my disinterest in ceasing whatever interesting activity engages me so that I can rest. Then there was the whole graveyard shift debacle of ’07 though I’m not sure I want to pick at that scab too much just yet. What strikes me about the sleeplessness associated with newborn skirmishes is how oppressive it is, comparatively. It is all-encompassing and creates obsession in the strongest-willed combatants. Normally if you get behind on sleep you cancel an appointment, wait for a weekend or take a prescription medication to knock yourself out for a couple of days. But in this case there is no reprieve and no amount of chivalry on the part of your squadmates can rectify the situation since the one thing—the only thing—that you could not sleep through is the cry of your beloved foe.

Nik and I used to gripe before the baby was born about new parents we’d run into who would examine Nik’s pregnant belly and say something like, “Get ready to never sleep again.” We regarded these people as plankton: Unfeeling sociopaths who were menacing a pregnant woman who had experienced one failed pregnancy already and lived still in mortal fear of having complications in another. At least, she would seethe, your baby is healthy. Our sympathy for these veterans has waned considerably over the past few weeks since we realized that the problem isn’t a lack of appreciation but one of all-consuming weariness that borders dangerously on narcolepsy. At no point is a new parent unaware of the triumph and blessing their child represents, but it becomes impossible to fathom anything else except sanity-violating tiredness. “Sleep” becomes the answer to every puzzle, it is the epitome of every desire, the chalice placed out of reach that contains the magical elixir of happiness. At one point deep in our daughter’s third week of life Nik and I were watching Jeopardy! and we shouted synonyms for slumber in the form of a question, with all sincerity, for 21 out of 30 questions in the Double Jeopardy round. I heard my wife, typically the paragon of reason, attempt at one point to bribe our daughter to sleep with such untenable promises as ponies, castles and luxury cars.

Once the parental psyche has been rent under the spine-crushing weight of enervation the true damage is done via a series of carefully coordinated clandestine assaults on several fronts: There is a physical component where a series of thrashing, uncontrolled movements batter even an adult male in such a way as to not leave any discernible marks but, like tapping a sack of light bulbs with a wiffle bat, the invisible damage is extensive. There is also a more direct psychological aspect to the strategy employed which is almost criminally devious in its subtlety. It plays on the dark corners of fear in your mind by placing a sudden, almost violent responsibility on an unsuspecting civilian, tormented by the other tactics explained above and then cruelly demands that one heap atop this responsibility a freighter of concern and worry. Because the most vindictive tactic unleashed is white-hot love and devotion invading every pore with each screech and every holler. Unjustly the parent is forced to adore their invading force, to pledge undying allegiance to their captor such that instead of resisting the conquerors they welcome them, cater to them and weep to placate them.

I found myself at one point standing in the shower, broken like a once free-spirited pony and staring blankly at the soap scum encrusted wall and thinking I might let the water run cold before I could face another moment of the exhaustion, the abuse. I steeled myself, shut off the water, dried and re-donned my pajamas that had become my uniform and returned to the front where I found it eerily quiet. I relieved my wife of her watch and prepared to flirt again with sheer madness. The moment was fleeting but I gazed down at my baby girl, defiantly refusing sleep, I saw the corners of her eyes crinkle. I braced myself for the tears I knew were coming, steeling for her siren call to cleave my skull but then—suddenly!—an unexpected smile crossed her tiny lips and at once broke into the most beautiful toothless expression of contentment, purity and joy. In that instant, a lifetime of treaties were signed.

Anticipation

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.”
Nik: “Yeah.”
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: “…”
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.

Regarding Nerves

“Are you nervous?”

This has become the de facto query directed at me when the subject of the impending birth of my daughter inevitably comes up. I’m not saying I find a way to shoehorn the topic into pretty much every conversation, but—hey, have I mentioned I’m about to be a father?

So. Am I nervous? Well, let’s see. I know that having a child can be expensive. We’re facing a situation where our typical two-income family has been relying on me as sole breadwinner for over a year, an arrangement that is unlikely to change in the next couple of years as we’ve decided it is best for Calliope if she has a full-time parent present during her formative years. As opposed to, say, some kindly old woman named Marge who collects the remainder of one paycheck after the government is finished with its plundering. I never really cared for the Atomic family model but when the math adds up… I mean, it’s math. You can’t argue with math.

Then there’s the fact that I’m in a sort of awkward career stage where I desperately need some re-education or additional training probably at a significant cost so I can break my relative salary stagnation which has been in place for about three years now. Did I mention the economy is sagging and my company just announced yesterday its third round of layoffs since I started ten months ago? I would classify myself as concerned about the financial responsibility I face.

Am I nervous? You know, this child has been almost ten years in the making. Theoretically speaking, that is. Nik and I will celebrate our tenth anniversary this October in what I presume will be a much shorter, less grandiose and significantly more anxious ceremony than we may have anticipated twelve months ago. But it’s possible that at any juncture from that date in October (of the last decade; of the last millennium if you want to fudge the numbers a bit) this thing could have been instituted. The reasons it took this long are numerous but a key factor in a lot of it was my own fears of paternal suitability. I’m not exactly the poster child for responsibility or maturity. Among my encyclopedic flaws are a severe jealousy for my personal and leisure time. Initially when we got married I said that I did in fact want children but I wanted us to have some time to be just a couple, to get to experience some alone time while we were young and not save it all until later in life. My proposal was for five years.

We didn’t make it even those five years before Nik began to grow restless waiting for the opportunity to be a mother. Few things in life have held as much appeal to this girl as the prospect of being a mom. Nurturing and care are in her blood, like she has a special enzyme that causes children to find comfort in her presence, solace in her voice and security in her arms. She began to speak of our five-year plan as if it were merely in draft form, suggesting she might put it to a special vote by the council to have the sentence reduced. It was sadly at this same time that I was growing less enamored with the notion of parenthood for mostly selfish reasons and I could not hide it from Nik. She asked point blank if I was still committed to the idea of parenthood and I had no choice but to confess that I was having doubts.

The next few years were difficult. We avoided the subject a lot, because as a couple we were happy but as a couple facing a future whose vision we didn’t share, it was also tinged with nervousness and sadness. But it had to come up now and then and the conversations were wrenching, draining. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be comfortable with the idea of being a dad. In some ways it made me a worse husband: I can’t bring myself to give my wife what she most wants in the world because I need the decision to be mutual and not some sort of martyr, but if I can’t do that, what else do I have to offer? Why even try?

It took an epiphany in the throes of the worst illness I can recall as my brain boiled beneath a 103° fever to make it clear. She was waiting for me. Her faith in me had moved beyond faith in my words or faith in my intent, she believed with her whole heart that either I would come to see that building a family with her was what we needed to do or, if not, that it was in God’s plan for us to be childless. She was willing to sacrifice her whole sense of identity because she was more devoted to me than she was to herself. Stewing in three-day filth and surrounded by discarded Kleenex brand facial tissues and empty glasses of 7Up and orange juice cocktail I suddenly understood that she would give anything for me because she believed in me with her whole heart.

I didn’t really get over the notion that fatherhood was a terrifying prospect, but I at least got over myself. I allowed myself to believe that she might be right, that I could do anything I set my mind to and I was willing at last to set my mind to being a good dad. It took a little bit more planning but everything began to get better after that. I softened on my stance and Nik cautiously began to accept that I might mean it when I said we could consider the idea of building our family. When we did finally reach the point where we were trying we conceived very quickly but our first pregnancy ended in a tragic miscarriage that almost undid everything. It was Nikki’s worst fear come true and we had no idea how to recover. It set us back more than a year, and not just in our plans for having children. Given the pain of that summer, we’ve been on pins and needles the entire pregnancy and I’m not feeling like the apprehension will ever ease. We already love our daughter so much and we’ve yet to even meet her.

But am I nervous? I’ve decommissioned an entire room of our apartment from an office/storage/hobby room into a nursery I don’t even recognize as belonging to me. We’ve helped Babies R Us post a record-breaking earnings quarter and re-arranged not just the baby’s room but our bedroom as well. It now sports a gigantic bassinet thing and a tiny desk that replaced our nice office work area. Even our living room now has to accommodate a bookshelf and, soon, an assortment of bouncers, playmats, toys, cushy pads and safety devices to avoid accidents. I’m already struggling with all manner of new bits of technology I never knew nor cared existed: Carbon monoxide alarms, internal/external thermometer alarms, monitoring systems, vaporizers, diaper disposal units, car seats, collapsible stroller frames. I love gadgets and yet these devices feel alien and unfamiliar.

All of these objects have been purchased and acquired on the recommendations of the thousands of people who’ve done this before us and while I’m grateful to have their advice and opinions, it can be overwhelming at times. There are persistent assertions that we will be sleep-deprived for months following the birth of our child. People warn about the challenges of parenthood as you struggle to maintain an identity as a couple, to make time for each other and to remember your marriage. It seems daily someone reminds me that, because we’re having a daughter, there will come a time in the all-too-rapidly approaching future where I’ll have to contend with snuffling pre- or just barely post-pubescent boys victimized by some fashion or another that I refuse to comprehend seeking to gain favor with my angel and shoulder me out of the picture. These slouching bags of water and hormones will bear the full brunt of my four decades of training in the arts of scorn, sarcasm and derision to the horror of my daughter who will flee the humiliation of her insufferable parents and seek solace in their simpering arms while I rapidly re-evaluate my long held belief that concealed sidearms are unnecessary in a civilized society.

There are cautionary tales about childhood obesity, the rise of autism, developmental concerns vis a vis television watching and electronic media consumption. Not to mention the basics of discipline and forging appropriate relationships with children as protectors and caregivers, nurturers and providers that stops short of casual friendship and who-runs-the-show spoilage. Oceans of ink have been spilled, countless hours devoted on television and PTA and church seminars and parental support group meetings to cover these topics and one’s head twirls around like a ballerina on a music box to consider having to wade into this fray. There is so much to learn, so many pitfalls on the way, so many places where someone as broken and insufferable as I am can stumble and cause irreparable harm to an innocent, unknowing child who had no worse part in this than to be stricken with the misfortune of having me as a parent.

Yeah, am I nervous?

Listen to me: I couldn’t be more excited.

ironCast Episode 8: Hey Are You Having Twins?

In this episode Nik and I reflect on two months of podcasting and wonder if we’ll have any inclination to continue once the baby is born. We also follow up on the great Blue Toilet Seat Mystery with some new information courtesy of Dr. Mac and then we discuss our 36 week OB appointment in which we discover that both doctors in the group are pretty much the same sort of no-nonsense practitioner. We then dive into a conversation about how rude people can be, likely without even realizing it, when they interact with a sensitive woman in late-term pregnancy. Wrapping it up in That’s Entertainment we see the Next Food Network Star begin to draw to a close and talk about how unsurprised we were to see Jameka get the axe while simultaneously scratching our heads as to how Debbie managed to avoid her fate for another week. Music this week from Spoon.

Show Notes

Total running time: 38:08

  • [00:00] Intro: “The Underdog” – Spoon
  • [00:20] Welcome; Month Two
  • [02:21] Interlude: “Two Sides/Monsieur Valentine” – Spoon
  • [02:37] The Great Blue Toilet Seat Mystery Revisited
  • [06:54] Interlude: “The Delicate Place” – Spoon
  • [07:18] Baby Talk: 36 Week Appointment
  • [13:05] Interlude: “I Turn My Camera On” – Spoon
  • [13:31] Baby Talk: Rudeness vs. Pregnancy
  • [24:55] Interlude: “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” – Spoon
  • [25:20] That’s Entertainment: The Next Food Network Star
  • [37:14] Outro: “I Summon You” – Spoon

Nightmare

It’s midday, except that it’s not. In a short while I’ll be up before sunrise, haunted by these things, writing for a means to find purpose. For now, the sun is mild and there is no breeze flowing from the colorless sky. I’m in a place where I can create, mostly at will although there is accomplishment in my efforts, versions of the things in my life that have come before. These versions are all made of soft material, like shaped balloons: They are kid-friendly and age appropriate. Here is a soft, bouncy version of the kitchen in the first home I remember, tiny ripples of not-liquid and not-solid forming the swirling rings of the electric stove burners in vibrant pinkish red. “Don’t touch,” I say calmly, “Those are hot.”

I’m leading a little girl through my fabrications, a girl I don’t know. She’s very young, maybe four, maybe less. She understands and responds to me, but mostly she listens. Sometimes she wanders ahead of me and I watch her closely. I know I am responsible for her but I’m content to let her explore as long as I can see her.

We discuss the things I’ve made casually, in that adult-to-child way when the grown-up respects the young one’s thoughts and observations as if they both had something to learn. This is right I feel. There are no thoughts, only feelings with words. We spend some time in each location, having time to spare. Her voice is high and amicable, full of bright curiosity and exquisite carelessness that is not a part of apathy but of contentment and inexperience. There is no darkening of the sky but this word-feeling casts a shadow.

The place is inside a giant sandbox I now notice. The surface isn’t sand exactly, it’s not dirty and doesn’t cling to your skin or pour into your shoes as you run. It’s stable but soft and stretches wide and far. We have much ground to cover. We pass a playhouse I’ve made that is a shop where they sell pizzas. My pretend pizzas are made with syrup and discs of candy because I think the little girl will like it better than the food I made in my first job. I tell her about how they used to tease me because I slid my foot along behind the broom when I was supposed to be sweeping the floor. They said it looked like I was dancing with it, and the girl’s giggle brings a sad smile to my face. She doesn’t understand the flushing heat of embarrassment that came with being branded the Broom Dancer. She does little twirls around the oven I created for her, holding the soft pretend broom high above her head so it whirls and blurs like a yellow helicopter blade. I don’t use the lesson opportunity to teach her about humiliation. We have time, but we need to move on.

We pad through the supple sand-like powder and she stops now and then to sit in it and run it through her fingers. I sweep it up and create another moment for her, before her eyes while she squeals with delight and claps her tiny fingers together. It is a mostly dry creekbed or man-made inlet, I was never sure, reproduced here as a model, a tiny play set in 1/64th scale. A path runs along the levee on either side, which people use for bicycle riding or jogging when the weather is nice. I top it with some paper doll people walking funny little origami puppies and the girl picks one up and says, “Aww. Doggie!” I feel words that say I had a doggie once but I don’t remind her of that. She moves the dolls along the path, echoing the memories of Saturday mornings. I don’t tell her of the time when a girl—not significantly older than she is now—told me on my birthday that she wanted to be with someone else instead and how I walked along this path in the pouring rain for what felt like hours, mixing tears with the icy drops until my jeans were soaked and my shoes squished with each step. I don’t tell her that. I don’t tell her how, a few years later, I would return to this same pathway with a different girl and tell her that after all we’d been through it wasn’t enough and we needed to go our separate ways. I leave out all of it, including the part where I just walked away, leaving her crying and alone. Without knowing that, she won’t know how it hurts to be on either side of heartbreak or how ashamed one can feel of their own actions.

The time passes and does not pass. The sky never changes, the invisible sun never sets. We must keep going, though we need not rush. We arrive after a time at the place I’ve been dreading. I’ve made for her a safe model of one of my favorite roller coasters. It has slides where the dips should go and cushy merry-go-rounds instead of frightening loop-the-loops. The colors are shimmering blues and candied greens. She pushes ahead of me, eager to try. “This was the first ride I ever wanted to go on,” I tell her, having to raise my voice to be heard over the distance. I can’t tell if my words are carrying across the landscape that separates us or not. She runs through the playground I’ve made for her in the essence of my favorite amusement park memory and she laughs. She looks ahead and runs further still, seeing more amusements re-created by me. I know something about these, but I can only hurry to catch up.

She crawls through tunnels and tumbles down ramps and gentle, padded inclines. She seems so far away and I cannot seem to cover the ground. She stops, and faces me. It looks like she’s half her size from this far away and I feel-think I’ll never catch her. She asks me a question although maybe it isn’t spoken: “What’s this one?”

I look carefully and tears fill my eyes, though I blink them back quickly and hope she can’t see from way over there. “That’s the ride I’m afraid of,” I tell her. She looks carefully at what I made, a shallow pool of bathwater, warm and welcoming, with tablets of floating foam in the shape of daisies. She skips along them, ever further out of reach. I want to tell her not to fall in. To be careful, but she won’t hear me now.

“Well I’m not afraid,” she says proudly.

I look ahead and I see what I didn’t want to have to face. It’s an opening in the sandbox, a ring of rubberized safety padding surrounding a pit. There is a cover over the pit, painted in yellows and blue zigzag designs like a ball you might buy from an enormous bin at a discount store if you could get one out without making the whole pile come down like an avalanche and bouncing across the tiled floor. The cover is a half-dome, hinged and creased across the diameter so it can retract and open. I don’t want it to open, but it will. It is.

Blue light pours from within, splitting the seam created by the widening gap between hemispheres and the girl looks at it, head tilted slightly in wonder. Tears roll down my face and I ignore them because she can’t see me anymore, she won’t look back, I know. I plead-feel Please don’t look inside and I sink to my knees. Inside is the world. Inside that passage, that pit, is danger. I’m afraid, because I’ve been there and I know. I’m afraid because I want to scream to the girl that we have to go back. I even try making something for her, something to distract her, something to get her to return to my side. I know she won’t, and I’ve forgotten how to create. I drop to my hands, needing the support, my head falls forward and I weep.

Please, no. I forgot to warn her.

She is silhouetted, black against the blue light, and my tears blur the edges until I wake.

ironCast Episode 7: Camera Shy From the Womb

Apparently we still don’t quite have our timing down, but if you use the nebulous “weekend podcast” description, we’re totally on point this time around. While we’re at it, we’ve got a fully packed episode in which we recount our surprising but thoroughly enjoyable late-pregnancy concert experience. Then, in Baby Talk, we go over our birthing class, the 35 week OB appointment and the subsequent ultrasound to check the baby’s size. Finally, to make up for last week’s shorter ‘cast, we catch back up on The Next Food Network Star in That’s Entertainment plus we touch on a couple of movies we’ve watched: Baby Mama and Valkyrie. Appropriately, this episode is packed with music from Coldplay.

We want to be sure to thank everybody for listening and ask that you do us one of the following favors (pick only one):

  1. Subscribe to our podcast via iTunes, if that’s your digital music player of choice so you never miss an episode.
  2. Rate us and write a review for our show on iTunes if you’re already a subscriber.
  3. Send feedback: constructive, critical, embarrassingly earnest, any kind of feedback is fine, to ironcast@ironsoap.org.
  4. Tell one friend about the show.

I realize that’s asking you to help us out but think about it this way: We don’t interrupt our podcast for advertisements and we don’t have any way of building a base of listeners except through your efforts to improve the show and get the word out a little bit. So if you want ironCast to be better and keep getting made, pick one favor and you will have our eternal gratitude and we’ll send you a check for $10.

Just don’t try to cash it until after the 1st.

Of October.

2028.

Show Notes

Total Running Time: 01:04:55

  • [00:00:00] Intro: Coldplay – “Viva La Vida”
  • [00:00:55] Welcome: Coldplay Concert
  • [00:18:28] Interlude: Coldplay – “Talk”
  • [00:18:47] Baby Talk: Birthing Class, Okay?
  • [00:29:30] Interlude: Coldplay – “Green Eyes”
  • [00:29:43] Baby Talk: 35 Week OB Appointment
  • [00:37:30] Interlude: Coldplay – “Shiver”
  • [00:37:56] Baby Talk: Size Check Ultrasound
  • [00:47:51] Interlude: Coldplay – “42”
  • [00:48:10] That’s Entertainment: Baby Mama and Valkyrie
  • [00:56:03] Interlude: Coldplay – “Clocks”
  • [00:56:18] That’s Entertainment: The Next Food Network Star
  • [01:04:24] Outro: Coldplay – “Life in Technicolor”

ironCast Episode 6: Walking Funny

Did I say Monday morning? I meant to say Tuesday evening. It’s practically the same anyway. Well, it’s an abbreviated podcast this week: During recording my allergies were acting up so we struggled to get decent sources to begin with what with all my sniffling and wheezing. However I did discover a method for reducing the number of annoying artifacts like that and in the process found that I can also remove a lot of the awkward “ums”, stutters and pregnant pauses that accompany the furious spinning of the hamster wheel in my brain. I think it makes the whole thing far more listenable.

The downside is that it’s much more labor intensive for the editing portion so I’m not sure if it isn’t more effective to just learn how to, you know, speak clearly and confidently. Either way, we’d appreciate if you let us know if this is more to your liking. All told we ended up with about half an episode, which doesn’t really make up for the four-day delay but at least we can say we’ve produced one podcast per week even if the release schedule is a bit dicey. We do manage to chat a bit about our 4th of July including awkward family reunion barbecues, ill-timed power outages, and then we discuss Nikki’s funny walk and talk about our Infant CPR class where we learn what sort of work Tolkien’s halflings can get in the health care field, how to speed up the transition from Heimlich Maneuver to CPR (hint: Give the baby to the pregnant lady) and find out exactly how resilient infants can be. Plus we have music by the Smashing Pumpkins chosen by my adorable co-host.

Oh, and if you missed the previous memo, we’re now on the iTunes Store where we would love if you rated us or wrote a review of our podcast.

Show Notes

Total Running Time: 29:18

  • [00:00] Intro: Smashing Pumpkins — “Hummer”
  • [00:25] Welcome: 4th of July, Barbecues, Power’s Out
  • [11:36] Interlude: Smashing Pumpkins — “Mayonaise”
  • [11:57] Baby Talk: Walking Funny (SPD), Infant CPR
  • [28:43] Outro: Smashing Pumpkins — “1979”

Stop, Gap

I apologize for the delay. ironCast Episode #6 has run afoul of some technical and scheduling hitches, but it should be up before the end of the weekend or Monday morning at the latest. I’m also working on a few more actual, you know, blog posts which will be available when they are finished. Considering all things that could be later this weekend or it could be July 2010, honestly. I am doing what I can, within reason.

However, if it helps to tide you over I was finally able to get ironCast up onto iTunes. If you use the program and wish to subscribe to the ‘cast that way, you can use this handy link to find the show and simply hit the “Subscribe” button whereupon your favorite media player will automagically download the freshest content for you as it becomes available.

I’m not sure why I’m encouraging you not to visit my website, but since I don’t bother to assault you with advertising, I stand to lose nothing. Anyway, if you do happen to visit our iTunes page, please be a dear and review the show or at the very least rate it so we have some vague notion of how we’re doing. At this point for all we know we could be bringing shame and dishonor to our families—a curse which will last for generations—or we could be poised on the cusp of a lucrative XM/Sirius radio deal, lacking only the proper tinder to start the flames of a grassroots groundswell if I may be permitted to combine several clichés and metaphors in a cement mixer. What I’m saying is that without feedback of some sort, you have no one to blame but yourselves.

ironCast Episode 5: We Hardly Ever Bathe

With a month of podcast experience under our belts we present to you a new, more professional ironCast. No, I’m kidding of course. We learn nothing. However, we do talk about frozen yogurt, Nikki’s baby shower, homemade gifts for Calliope, and how diaper cakes are something that diapers are in rather than something that is in a diaper. We also discuss in utero hiccups, flippant OBs and my convoluted scheme to solve the Great Blue Toilet Seat Mystery.

Then in That’s Entertainment we chat about Pride & Glory and catch up on The Next Food Network Star before exchanging some banter about reading including our thoughts on books we’re currently working on like Bill Bryson’s Neither Here Nor There and the Baby Bargains book. All that plus music by The Shins? We may not be professional, but we are givers.

Sorry for iTunes users who were disappointed last week. I’ll try again and see if I can get it going this time. Don’t forget we’d love to have feedback, just drop us a note at ironcast@ironsoap.org and we’ll get your comments on the air.

Show Notes

Total Running Time: 54:50

  • [00:00] Intro: The Shins – “We Will Become Silhouettes”
  • [00:41] Welcome: Frozen yogurt, frozen tongues
  • [02:53] Interlude: The Shins – “Phantom Limb”
  • [03:04] Baby Talk: Baby shower, 33 week OB appointment, baby hiccups, blue toilet seat chemistry plan
  • [24:18] Interlude: The Shins – “Pink Bullets”
  • [24:42] That’s Entertainment: Pride & Glory, The Next Food Network Star, GoodReads, Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson, Baby Bargains by Denise and Alan Fields.
  • [54:09] Outro: The Shins – “New Slang”

ironCast Episode 4: The Blue Toilet Seat Mystery

This week Nik and I get self-conscious about our verbal tics and take advantage of my weird work schedule to get some chores done. Along the way we have our second pediatrician interview, talk about eating—for three?—while pregnant and get completely baffled by a blue stain on our toilet seat.

Then in the second segment we chat about entertainment again, discussing the latest to get the boot on The Next Food Network Star and following up on The Real Housewives’ reunion shows. We wrap it up with some talk about Dollhouse, Alias, features we wish were available on TiVo and why we can’t (or won’t if you talk to Nik about it) get rid of cable. This week’s music by Neko Case.

Also, we have an official podcast email address now, send your topic suggestions, feedback or questions to ironcast@ironsoap.org and we’ll incorporate your mail into a future segment on the show. Finally, if all goes well this will be the first week you can get and subscribe to our podcast on iTunes. How official!

Show Notes

Total Running Time: 52:19.

  • [00:00] Intro: Neko Case – “Hold On, Hold On”
  • [00:31] Welcome: Verbal tics and weird schedules
  • [02:31] Pediatrician Interview #2
  • [13:26] Pregnancy Eating
  • [24:09] The Blue Toilet Seat Mystery
  • [32:01] Interlude: Neko Case – “John Saw That Number”
  • [32:16] That’s Entertainment: The Next Food Network Star, The Real Housewives of New Jersey Reunion, Dollhouse
  • [51:50] Outro: Neko Case – “Thrice All American”

ironCast Episode 3: Ominous Warnings

In this week’s episode, Nik and I are late to the party but that doesn’t stop us from discussing Slumdog Millionaire. Plus we dive into The Next Food Network Star, chat about Chopped and Nik schools me on the ins and outs of The “Real Housewives” of New Jersey. Then we get into a conversation about how our relationship may change once Calliope arrives, how pregnant women are like a dangerous sorority, and what Nik plans to do to help those yet-to-be pregnant women once her stint is over.

Thanks to those who helped us pick a name!

Show Notes

  • Episode #3: Ominous Warnings
  • Total Running Time: 53:11
  • Music: Switchfoot
  • Segment 1: That’s Entertainment (Marker: 02:13)
  • Segment 2: Baby Talk (Marker: 36:25)

Untitled Podcast, Episode 2: Barbecues, Bellies and Babies

This week we discuss our new barbecue grill, expanded belly sizes, games of patty cake in utero and the quest for Calliope’s pediatrician. Music by The Decemberists.

Also, please help us name our podcast. Our current contenders:

  • The ironSoap Podcast
  • ironSoap Radio
  • ironCast
  • You Can’t Marry a Pirate Podcast
  • You Can’t Marry a Pirate Radio
  • H-Town Review

Or, we’re totally open to suggestions. Comment below, or send feedback to paul@ironsoap.org.

The Untitled Podcast, Episode 1: The Name Game

It was many months in the making and, well, it doesn’t really show. But at long last Nik and I have recorded a podcast and we present it to you for mockery and scorn. However, it is the only place you can learn the not-so-secret name of our daughter-in-utero, so if you’re not big on the heckling you can listen for that reason.

We had fun making it and we’ll probably do some more now that we kind of have the process figured out. This is a trial run, so bear with us.

Also, we haven’t decided on a name yet. Obviously we could go with something like ironCast or ironSoap Radio, but I also still have the youcantmarryapirate.com domain floating around so I thought we might do the You Can’t Marry a Pirate Podcast. Let us know what you think works and if you have suggestions, we’d love to hear ’em.

Dangerous Confirmations

“Turn left here.”

I glance over my shoulder and note the impenetrable wall of traffic. “Uh, no can do.” I coast into the intersection and look forlornly through my driver’s side window at the road I should be on. A scowl of annoyance folds my cheek and I heave a sigh. “Well, I guess I can swing around at the next light.”

The next light is a No U-Turn intersection. I’ve already committed to the turn lane by the time I realize this, so I take the left anyway and figure I’ll just make another left on the other side of the overpass and come back ’round to my initial destination. Of course there is no left turn possible so I stay in the furthest left lane that I can, hoping soon some light will allow me to reverse direction and get back on track. I am reminded of my dad, whom we’ve occasionally teased with names like “The U-Turn King.” Yes, karma, I see you over there in the corner. Ha ha. Very funny.

“Hey,” Nik remarks, “I think this street is the one you were trying to turn left on originally.” As I breeze past the crosswalk I duck my head and look up at the rapidly passing street sign and, yes, this is the street I originally missed turning onto, obviously it had curved sharply right after the intersection and now ran parallel to the initial road.

“Perfect,” I say.

The next nine minutes involve sixteen left turns, two U-turns and a punched steering wheel (okay two punches were attempted but I’m such a poor executor of my frustration only one of my blows actually lands on the wheel which is half a foot directly in front of me), but at last we’ve found the correct road—and the correct direction, which was a point of consideration I hadn’t thought would play a particularly strong role but proved to be nearly as vexing as locating the proper street. I silently say thanks for my wife’s insistence that we leave the house with time to spare, “just in case.”

I consider what peculiar decisions we’ve taken to arrive at this point in time and space and trace it back to Nik’s central neurosis. It’s like this: We had an ultrasound which confirmed the gender of our baby (a girl) six weeks ago. They took a picture from an unflattering angle off the monitor with an arrow pointing between her legs and typed across the image, “It’s a Girl!” It’s one of the many things that will only fly (with me) for a very brief window of time. Anyone expressing this much fascination with my daughter’s reproductive organs beyond that had better come equipped with an expensive diploma, a stethoscope and a healthy fear of lawsuits, hedge clippers and firearms. But Nik has a sort of casual paranoia: She doesn’t concoct elaborate scenarios in which aliens kidnap her or governmental bogeymen plant tracking devices in her toenails, she prefers to presume that cosmic forces plot against her in an effort to thwart her shopping trips and decor decisions. In this case she’s convinced that we require independent verification of our unborn child’s sex or she will refuse to purchase needed items, register for gifts or accept charity on the (let’s face it) 50/50 shot that the doctors are incorrect.

Which is what has us traveling this twisty maze of unfamiliar streets, looking for the offices of a private ultrasound technician specializing in—ahem—state of the art 4D ultrasounds. The term 4D is something that would probably only get a pass in the logic-adverse world of commercial prenatal products and services. The real fourth dimension is a spatial construct separate from the commonly understood planes of height, width and depth which is described as reasonably as the concept can be in this mind-fracturing article. I think what the marketers mean in this case is that the imagery incorporates the fourth dimension of spacetime which is linear progression via chronology. In other words, the images are arranged in a sequence. Never mind that this is classically defined as, you know, video. I guess it just doesn’t have that same cutting-edge ring to it.

These sorts of establishments offer a variety of services, not unlike studio photographers, only with extra-womb shutterbugs you have to find particularly seedy providers before you encounter the analog to the “genitals only” package. They are intensely specific about this option, including several blocks of disclaimer verbiage in assorted font sizes reminding customers that even an accidental glimpse of the baby’s head, neck, chest or face region is likely to cost upward of $200 additional dollars in service fees. As I settle into the longer stretch of non-highway road on the route I wonder what sort of trickery they plan to employ to prevent us from catching a glimpse of our daughter (?). What if the arbitrarily selected placement of the ultrasound wand happened to be right above her (?) face? They wouldn’t really charge us extra just because the baby was trying to use my wife’s navel as a periscope, would they?

I decide, as is my cynical tendency, they most definitely would. I try to gently prod Nik to get the child to turn around or something. “Where do you think her head is?” I ask casually, breaking the relative silence.

Nik shrugs, she’s still staring at her handwritten instructions. We’re a pretty wired family but we’re notoriously bad about keeping our printer stocked with ink, so we spend a lot of time looking up directions online and copying them by hand onto the backs of envelopes or torn receipts. I let the question linger in the air. She finally looks up. “Huh?”

“Do you think she’s facing toward your front?” I ask, still keeping my voice suave.

“I dunno, I guess so.”

I consider this. “So you think he’ll probably start toward the bottom of your stomach like the OB/GYN? Or do you think he’ll go for a top-down approach?” I’m thinking of the diagrams in a number of books I’ve thumbed through which always depict the infants sort of heads-up until it is time for the labor/delivery process during which they seem to execute a precision half-gainer with a twist. She regards me like a pet owner who just watched their dog run facefirst into the screen door after barely getting the sliding glass door clear.

But before she can chide me she glances out the window and realizes that the scenery has changed and she quickly examines her note. “Whoa, it’s around here somewhere,” she says. I look out the window, searching for a reference address. Rather than noting any street digits, I’m distracted by the black glare of the telltale signs of Bad Neighborhood: Bars line every window, graffiti extends beyond the typical suburban targets like open sound walls, bus stops and public school portables, spilling onto traffic signs, parked cars and unlucky pedestrians. The street lights have dimmed to a dull yellow, the universal color of warning and I begin to process what she just said in the context of what my fight-or-flight reaction is relaying to me now.

“It’s here?”

“Yeah, well the website says it’s not the nicest location. You know, so they can keep the costs down.”

“They keep costs down by squatting on Skid Row?” I can practically feel her scowling at me.

“Oh!” Her death gaze is cut short by a glimpse of a passing address. “It should be right… around…” her finger points out the window like a divining rod trying to find a lock. “Here!” I slow my approach and make the right hand turn into what must be the smallest parking lot ever designated as such. It contains one ’87 Oldsmobile Cutlass and is already full. There is a razor thin pathway leading toward the back of the building with a sign clearly punctured by multiple drive-by shootings indicating additional parking is available through this alley/ambush bottleneck.

The building itself is a fleabag hotel that has been converted—my guess is illegally—into a business park. The tenants include two bail bond operations, a head shop (hours: M, Th from 11:00 am – 3:45 pm) and the local NA chapter, who are currently holding a meeting. The ultrasound place is on the lower floor, street side in what I’m beginning to think of as the “killzone” for any marauders or other passing brigands. I’m trying to execute a three-point turn at a safe 45 mph while Nik is calmly gesturing toward the canal of death, deeper into the inky blackness of urban nightmares. “Looks like we’ll have to pull around back.”

I can’t bring myself to actually stop the car, so I speak quickly, “This place is a hovel. We are going to die here and our tale will serve as a grim warning to future generations.” This is my protest, but I note with chagrin that I haven’t been able to avoid actually directing the car down the alleyway. At the back side of the building is another parking lot in the loosest sense of the word. It is an enclosed and dimly lit cul-de-sac crowded with stolen cars and derelict RVs whose windows glow with ethereal lights in sickly green hues. The sort of mad street chemistry being conducted behind those filthy panes of shatterproof glass by bearded urban hillbillies frosts me with a deep marrow chill, like filling my bones with Icee™. Crowding the limited space available are looming trees, bristling with sniper’s nests and camouflaging the night’s sinister soldiers.

“There’s a spot,” Nik chirps brightly.

I pull into the stall and begin to hurriedly collect anything that might be of value—anything loose, essentially. I’m glancing out the windows, praying the automatic interior light timer will hurry because as it is we’re a virtual Victim Beacon, broadcasting our location with searchlights and highlighting our lack of defensive weaponry with fiber optic sandwich boards. Nik looks over at me, my arms laden with personal electronics, spent checkbooks, car chargers, pens, anything shiny that might reflect light and draw the villainous eye of a thug on patrol through his favorite hunting grounds. Sweat beading on my brow, she crumples her lip as if she was seeing me for the first time for what I truly am: A five-foot-seven banana slug. “Let’s just go,” she says with a heaving sigh of exasperation. A sound pierces the darkness which I immediately attribute to gunfire but upon further reflection…

“Was that… cannon fire?” I can honestly say I never expected to be dragged by my earlobe through a parking lot by a pregnant woman. Oh the places you’ll go, indeed.

The door to the destination is open, but the lights are off. Also open is the door to the meeting in the next suite which I thought originally was for NA but turns out to be Serial Killers Anonymous, a lesser known organization. The gathering of greasy-haired outcasts thumbing something rigid and slender outlined just beyond the threshold of recognition in their jacket pockets, talking to their curtains of hair with sharp bird-like movements of their heads is peppered with beefy tattooed convicts proudly displaying an impressive array of improvised blade scars across their arms and faces. Their heads turn in unison as we pass, regarding this pasty suburban couple with the same intensity as a pack of starving jackals watching a flat-tired butcher delivery van. Our options are to brave the unknown darkness behind the portal that represents what I can only assume is our final destination or stand out here testing the efficacy of the 12-step program.

“Come in, come in,” a voice creeps from the darkness, “I’ve been expecting you.” I’m having trouble placing the accent, and Nik and I shuffle nervously into the dim room, sort of egging each other on. A form moves toward the back of the suite and my eyes adjust enough to make out a shadow pulling away from the pale glow of a laptop monitor. There are flashes of color and motion just visible via the insubstantial orange light that barely filters through the slits in the closed blinds. It doesn’t seem like the form really moves, it more appears at our side, and the light clicks on.

Our host is an eastern European man, maybe mid-forties. He’s suddenly wearing a hunting-safety orange vest over a set of blood red scrubs, where a moment ago I swore he was wearing some sort of hood or at least a cloak. After another second of consideration I decide I’m not much comforted by the notion of red scrubs and I examine the extremities of them, the wrists and cuffs, to see if perhaps they were once white and only appear to have been intentionally dyed red. He’s swarthy and has a scruff of salt and pepper across his chin and neck, but I notice with some alarm that his eyes are solid black and even under the unforgiving illumination of these florescent bulbs, they reflect no light. “So, what are you here to see?” he asks cordially. I finally recognize the accent: Transylvanian.

Nik explains to him that we want to verify the baby’s gender. “You didn’t get an ultrasound from your doctor?” he asks. Looking a bit embarrassed, Nik shuffles her feet.

“We did,” I say, my voice croaking a bit as I realize my mouth is entirely devoid of saliva. “We just want to be sure.”

“Okay,” the Count Ultrasound says. Only he doesn’t say it in that “yes I understand” sort of way, he says it like, “Ooookay,” in that “hey it’s your money, weirdos” kind of way. I’m a little insulted that a vampire masquerading as a medical professional would be judging us. He continues, to Nik, “Up on the table, please.”

From across the room I’m suddenly acutely aware of several things:

  1. My wife has a long and particularly luscious neck.
  2. Count Ultrasound has positioned himself between her and I.
  3. I left my ghoul-hunting equipment at home.

I look around the room, trying to find any sort of object I could use as an improvised weapon, thinking, “What would MacGuyver do? What would Jason Bourne look for?” The most useful result of this exercise is that I confirm for the record that I am neither MacGuyver or Jason Bourne. Less useful but interesting is the room itself. Aside from the standard issue exam table, there is a high-quality color printer, a pretty state-of-the-art HP laptop which is really a desktop replacement, a massive screen stretched across the far wall, a decent projector mounted on the ceiling and an ultrasound machine that makes the one in Nik’s OB/GYN’s office look like it could have been used to confirm the gender of Caesar Agustus.

In no way am I up on any of the current models in the ultrasound sector, but I know snazzy techno-gizmos when I see them and this thing is pretty smokin’. It has its own flat panel high resolution display and as Count Ultrasound begins, he dims the lights in the room and suddenly the inside of my wife is projected wall-sized in HD on the screen from the projector. The picture quality, compared to the images I felt I was getting pretty good at deciphering, is astounding. Within moments I feel like I can start to make out tiny details I would never have distinguished from the blizzard of static at the OB’s office. I swear I can see a tiny wrinkle in the knuckle of a baby toe when suddenly the Count snaps the light back on and announces, “We’re done. It’s a girl.”

I think he’s joking, but it’s hard to tell from the back of his head. Nik looks like she’s near to tears so I’m guessing maybe he’s serious? The moment lasts too long and Nik and I exchange a few glances before she catches the Count’s look again and seems to soften. He says something I don’t hear and Nik laughs her nervous fake laugh while he replaces the wand on her belly and begins again. Oh, it was a joke. You know that one where you make a pregnant woman almost cry?

Hilarious.

The clarity in this ultrasound is remarkable and indeed after a couple of seconds to get my bearings I can clearly identify the parts he’s highlighting with the mouse cursor on the screen: This child is indeed my daughter. He flips the mode over to the dubiously referenced 4D mode which mostly seems to fill in the x-ray style ultrasound with an amber coating to give it some solidity and creates a more photographic effect. Indeed, if you wish to be charged for the privilege, the technique can give you something that approximates the child’s first picture in which you can make out a lot of their features. I’m impressed by how deftly the Count avoids the child’s face so as to avoid granting us any freebies, but I also note that Nik seems to be subtly shifting herself underneath the wand, trying to trick him into rolling over the child’s head area and giving us a peek.

Without thinking I avert my eyes, afraid Nik’s gambit will be successful. Sure, there is the ridiculous reflex based notion which puffs out its tiny chest in the face of logic and suggests that if I somehow don’t see the baby’s face I can’t be charged for it but there is something else driving my actions. It’s subtler and less prone to metaphor. Obviously I’m curious. I’ve waited for months for this child, my offspring, to reveal herself and yet there are still months to go. I have a documented fascination for technology and the wonder of using it to simulate magic.

But something in me feels like there is a magic in itself to that moment so poorly captured in novel and film where a child is drawn crying from its mother and placed into the waiting arms of its parents. It is like meeting a pen pal for the first time and finding the love you hoped and feared you might have for them is in fact real and consumes like a fire. It’s like opening the Christmas present you’ve pretty much got figured out and finding your hopes confirmed but being even more grateful for it than you thought you’d be. It’s the surprise that isn’t a surprise, something so marvelous that it can’t be cheated, it must be experienced. And at this moment I’m feeling like I risk ruining it before I’ve had the chance to know what it’s like.

Listen, the truth is, I chicken out.

But honestly it doesn’t matter because the Count is crafty and he shifts the wand with Nik like a bemused dancer dealing with an overly confident upstart. I guess he’s played this little game before and I realize he’s got the upper hand regardless: Even if Nik is successful he can always just charge us for it and emerge the victor one way or the other. I try to telepathically relay to Nik that the deck is stacked. Whether she receives the signal or comes to the conclusion on her own, she gives up.

We spend a few more minutes checking toes and seeing the baby kick, which gives a peculiar reference to the little bumps we’ve felt for weeks now. After a bit the Count stands up and snaps on the light (again), provides Nik with a towel so she can clean the goop from her stomach and fusses with his high tech equipment for a bit before dangling a parcel containing a CD-ROM and a couple of high-res printouts in front of me but just out of reach like an older brother. He’s expecting payment and suddenly I realize we haven’t discussed methods. Does he accept cash only? Checks? Discover card? Plasma by the pint?

Our exit is awkward, we’re reluctant to turn our back on him but similarly hesitant to return to the mean streets, especially carrying an unmarked package which could entice a particularly curious brand of mugger. My voice wavers as I speak intentionally loudly about our recently acquired baby pictures, clarifying that we aren’t transporting rare electronic devices or precious stones or anything else appealing to any hooligans who may be lurking just out of site, in wait. We reach the car out of breath although neither of us recalls running or even walking fast. I leave a sixteen foot streak of black rubber on the asphalt in my haste to depart and I glance into the rearview mirror one last time, confirming we don’t have a tail. A quick look to my right finds Nik, pale faced and clutching the package of images of our unborn daughter’s genitalia, an approving grimace on her lips.

“So,” I ask, trying to regain my cool exterior, “Want to try the best ice cream in the world?”

Thirteen Minutes

00:01

I guess I should have realized what she was doing earlier. Silly superstitions fluctuate between amusing and annoying for me, but I don’t have a problem with little games. That she kept her half of the wishbone in a plastic baggie was the tip-off I should have received, but it wasn’t until just this moment that the light bulb had sputtered on.

As an aside, I can’t figure out the phrasing “The light bulb went off” as a metaphor for sudden realization. Given cartoon parlance, the idea always illuminates the bulb, which means if the bulb “went off,” the idea would be extinguished. An odd turn of the language, that.

Anyhow, here I am with a mouthful of kettle chips, staring idly into space while the open refrigerator cools my jeans because I’m functionally a very thin-haired teenager, waiting to sip Diet Coke directly from the two-liter once I’ve had a chance to swallow and I’m staring at this bit of chicken carcass magnetized to the fridge door and I get it. She wished that she was pregnant.

And it worked.

Or, at least, it proved to be a timely guess. Or an accurate hope. Or… something. For a few seconds I marvel that most of the truth or effectiveness of hope and wish and prayer and astrology and superstition and faith and optimism is basically attribution: If you think of it as coming from fate or God or cosmic forces or planetary alignment or positive thinking or the power of the human spirit it works either way. Did a wish on a chicken bone give my wife what she’s always wanted? Did God answer her prayers? Did nothing more magical than raw biology occur? It just depends on how you look at it. Maybe, technically, the answer is just “yes.” Maybe God granted the chicken bone the power to grant the wish that provided the sperm with the strength to push that last tiny bit.

Maybe it’s just easier to say she got her wish.

00:02

The fleshy woman had a security camera poised above and just to the right rear of her desk, overlooking both the semi-awkward chairs that served to provide customers with a modicum (a very small modicum) of comfort and, my paranoid mind assumed, to evaluate her level of worktime dedication. Pre-registering for admission to the hospital is kind of surreal when you think about it. Delivering a baby is one of the very few times you plan on visiting the hospital. I guess that’s why most people hate hospitals: They always interrupt your life.

Really, we love hospitals. They give us a place to go when these mysterious bodies of ours malfunction. I tried to imagine living in a place where hospitals weren’t standard issue in every township and populated region. It looked a lot like the scary places on Earth that I’m hesitant to visit. Maybe because they lack hospitals.

Jowls swinging, the woman “hoom”ed over our paperwork, flitting thickly back and forth between the forms (which weren’t that detailed) and her computer screen, which was turned opposite us so the security camera could stare watchfully at it but we could not. We listened to the clack of her fingernails on the keyboard for what felt like too many seconds while she let the semi-silence drag on. Finally she looked up, “Can I have a copy of your driver’s license, please?” Nik complied readily. “Did they take a copy when you were in here before?”

Nik looked puzzled but replied, “Yes.”

Heaving her bulk out of the chair (an unnecessary motion, I presumed, the office was scarcely big enough for her full frame, much less the three of us; I couldn’t imagine what she would need to do that one of us couldn’t handle by lifting an arm six inches to any side) she slapped the ID cards into the copier tray. “Well, no harm in copying them again, I suppose.”

I almost spoke up, suggesting that having unaccounted for copies of her driver’s license and insurance card lying around was indeed capable of causing harm, but I decided to stow it. Instead I marveled at the unfunny cartoon magnet on her overhead cupboard and the gigantic teacup-and-saucer shaped pots that crowded the room with poorly maintained plants.

The copier whirred and she lifted the lid too soon, half-blinding herself with the scanning light. I suppressed a laugh, mostly for Nik’s benefit, and watched as she handed the cards back to my wife, beaming with her un-self-conscious radiance in the stiff chair next to me. Before the woman flopped herself back into the chair I already knew that she was going to tell us we were all set to enter the hospital in less than 100 days for the first steps in the journey that would alter everything forever. I wished the confirmation was being delivered by someone with less Mary Kay brand lipstick on her teeth.

00:03

It had been a pretty tough morning. My first-shift partner had taken a personal day and things were breaking all over the place, causing me to get overwhelmed and stressed out. I griped over IM to Nik and she almost immediately asked if I wanted her to come out and have lunch. It was well past my lunchtime but having no relief/backup that day, I hadn’t actually taken a break. I didn’t really want her to go out of her way, but I did want to see a friendly face so I said if she wanted to come out, I would like to see her.

After the break she had decided to just stay and hang out until my shift was over. Fortunately the rest of the day had been much smoother than the first half and now we were discussing dinner options while I tried to pack up my equipment and hit the road. When Nik and I talk about what to eat for dinner the conversation often goes something like this:

Me: “What do you want for dinner?”
Nik: “I dunno, what sounds good to you?”
Me: “Meh, I could go for pretty much anything. Did you have any preferences?”
Nik: “Well, I’m starving but nothing sounds good.”
Me: “How about something we don’t get very often?”
Nik: “No.”
Me: “How about something we eat all the time?”
Nik: “I’m sick of all of that.”
Me: “So… if you could eat anything in the world right now, what would it be?”
Nik: “I don’t know. I can’t think of anything. Give me some suggestions.”
Me: “Like, more suggestions than I already have?”
Nik: “You didn’t give me any suggestions.”
Me: “I should start carrying around a tape recorder.”
Nik: “You should start carrying around some sandwiches.”
Me: “…”
Nik: “…What about sandwiches?”

But in this case we were also saddled with an additional issue of being close to our budget limit for food, plus we were in an unfamiliar location and had two cars. We had a meal at home that we were prepared to eat but it was at least 45 minutes until we could get there and then another probably hour until it would be ready. I suggested we push the budget anyway and get some food.

As we exited the building Nik said she didn’t want to do that because she’d feel guilty the whole time she ate, knowing it was bad for our budget, and she wouldn’t enjoy it. I said that was okay and we could think of something else. We walked along the sidewalk that separated the lots. My car was in the one to the right, the employee lot, hers in the left for visitors. We stopped moving because we hadn’t decided how to handle the transportation. Nik was looking increasingly agitated. She didn’t think we could agree on anything to eat and didn’t even know what we could find.

I suggested we could head into the main part of Sunnyvale and see what we came across, then come back and get my truck before we came home. Nik finally lost it. Her eyes puddled with tears and her lip quivered in that sad/cute way it does when she’s trying to avoid feeling silly for being emotional. She spoke in short, liquid phrases. “I haven’t eaten since before I left home! I know we should just go home, but I’m so hungry I’m getting a headache… I can’t think straight…” Out of the corner of her eye she saw one of my unknown co-workers, who was trying unsuccessfully not to stare at the cad making a pregnant woman cry. Embarrassed now at her audience and tumbling into a self-replicating spiral of emotional overload, she clammed up and tried to urge me toward my truck to just get something happening so she could try to forget the fact that she was crying about food of all things.

I don’t always know what to do when people get worked up over small things. I don’t judge them for it, in my estimation people like me are probably too cold and reserved for this world. Frankly, there’s a lot of stuff to get worked up about. In that second with tears falling against her will onto her stretched belly (where else would they land?) as if to bathe my unborn daughter with tears wrought by my inconsiderate behavior, I made a command decision. “Come on,” I said. “We’re going to get hamburgers. And I’m going to drive you there.”

“What about your tru—”

I cut her off. “I’ll take the shuttle tomorrow morning. I’ll drive it home then. No problem!” I smiled at her, hoping to appear reassuring and not reveal that if my all-in gamble on swaggering confidence failed me I would have no backup plan for how to ease her pain. She choked on a little laugh and glanced nervously at the bicycle-fiddler, who might as well have been whistling and staring at the clouds. She blinked back the pooled tears and wiped a palm absently on her shirt, and circled her arm around mine so I could lead her to the car.

00:04

It’s really not the sentiment the bothers me. I appreciate that people are engaged with expectant parents the way they would never otherwise be. There is a certain universal human-condition aspect to being pregnant that causes a sort of softening of the edges on the barriers that people usually construct between themselves and the ubiquitous strangers who populate their same general space. It’s in the smiles from passerby, it’s in the breezy conversations that wouldn’t otherwise be struck, it’s in the sense of palpable excitement from random humans with no other connection to you than their appreciation for your contribution to our species.

Still, there ought to be some limits. In some cases those non-pregnancy barriers exist for socially relevant reasons. Nik had just undergone the most recent barrage of naming suggestions from some arbitrary, disconnected passerby which sounded more like names they would like to use on their own children than names they felt would really suit a child coming from the collated DNA of Nik and I. We hadn’t exactly kept a secret that while we were fully prepared with a previously agreed upon name for a boy, the revelation that we were having a girl left us without a solid contingency in place. Hearing this had seemed to open the door for people to supply us with useful suggestions.

It wasn’t that we hadn’t scoured baby name books and sites already. Options were hardly what we lacked. What we lacked was that sense of connection to the name, the feeling that it was the end of the sentence that started with, “So I was hanging out this weekend with Paul, Nikki and…”

Of course, I wasn’t making it easier. I insisted that whatever name we chose also had a solid nickname. My entire life the principal complaint I had about my name was that it couldn’t be shortened. It felt many times like people avoided calling me by name, preferring to address me as “dude” or “bud” or whatever because there wasn’t a decent “hey-I-know-this-guy-and-we’re-on-informal-terms” phrasing for my name. Even people who have single syllable names like Tom or Jim can go by “Tee” or “Jay.” I won’t pretend I’m upset that no one ever felt it was cool or funny to call me “Pee.”

I built a spreadsheet. It contained the names we were considering in one column, the possible nicknames in another, matching middle name options in the third and then a column each for our individual ratings: 0-5. A calculated column then tallied the scores and sorted them by which names we both liked the best.

Lots of names Nik liked I had to rate low because they didn’t have nicknames at all. Many of the names I suggested were nixed because they were too unusual, even though I selected them to be long versions of the short names she liked. Nothing scored a higher cumulative rating than 6, and I kept dropping my score on that one because while I liked the full name, the more I thought about the short name the less happy I was with it.

Nik sighed and tried to shake off the well-meaning but ultimately frustrating encounter. Since we had the boy’s name earlier than we needed it we weren’t shy about sharing it. Even that had been somewhat bewildering as people felt perfectly at ease offering us critiques as if their reminders that it made a very excellent dog’s name was somehow helpful. The process felt in many ways like a classic case of too many cooks occupying the same kitchen.

“You know people are going to drive us crazy about this until she gets here, right?” Nik asked, although it wasn’t exactly a question. It was my turn to sigh. “I mean, what if we can’t come up with a name until right before she gets here?”

I rolled the thought around in my head for a moment, like Play-Doh. “What if…” I trailed off.

“What?”

“Nah. Nevermind.”

She scowled. “You have to tell me now. You know I hate that.”

“Okay,” I said with a grin. “I’m just thinking, what if we just told people we weren’t telling anyone the name?” Nik wrinkled her nose the way she does when she’s thinking.

“We could say it was going to be a surprise!” She seemed very excited about this.

“Uh, yeah. Sure.” I’m not huge on surprises, but I supposed that was what I was insinuating anyway. “Plus, that way even if we can’t agree on anything until the day before she’s born, no one has to know how much we struggled to come up with it. They might just assume we knew it all along.”

Nik cocked an eyebrow at me. “Ah, the procrastinator’s dream.”

00:05

We didn’t anticipate much of the reality of the pregnancy. We had plenty of notions about what it would be like. Having suffered from lower back pain for several years after an on-the-job injury and even undergoing spinal surgery to correct a herniated disc (an uncommon procedure in someone so young), we assumed Nik would have lots of back trouble during the ordeal. Instead it turned out that her lower back was fine but her ribs and mid-back were what sustained the most pressure from the extra weight in front and were causing her lots of sleepless nights and frustrating issues with general comfort.

I went to the freezer and retrieved the two ice packs we kept in there, these funky gel-based numbers that supposedly stayed cooler for longer periods of time. Than what I’m not precisely sure. I suppose than regular bags of ice cubes. That’s not the point. The problem was that even through a shirt they felt like they caused frostbite. We solved the problem by arranging them into a pillowcase, along the seam, separated lengthwise by about six inches. She would then wrap the case around her side, one ice pack lying atop her belly bulge and tucked under a breast so it could numb the thin muscles overlying the ribs. The other pack pressed against her back, just on the other side of her body from the first.

The problem was the position she had to contort into to hold the packs in place made the pain even worse than without the ice. So I grabbed an Ace bandage and wrapped it around her middle several times, making sure to get up underneath the edges of the ice packs so they would stay in place, then I clipped the bandage snugly in place. It was a little silly looking, with a bandage around the middle of a pregnant woman and a cream-colored pillow case hanging off her hip like a tiny mis-fitting cape.

I finished wrapping it up and the cold sent goosebumps up her bare arm, disappearing under the strap of her tank top. “Thank you, sweetie,” she said and planted a soft kiss on my cheek, standing up with surprising lightness on her tiptoes to reach.

00:06

Instinctively, my defenses began to rise. Forcefully I kept my voice even and tried again to explain my position, but I didn’t get far before her mind came up with another point. I could tell from her tone that she was on edge as well but trying valiantly to avoid escalating the conversation into a genuine quarrel. The curious thing about parenting is that so much initially affects the mother directly and physically. Eventually I presume the biology gets out of the way and things even out, but at this point there was so little actual influence I had.

“I think you’re not grasping that this is a long time we’re talking about. You don’t have to watch what you eat. You don’t have to alter much of anything, because the baby isn’t depending on your body!”

I nodded. “Well, that’s kind of exactly my point. I appreciate the reality of that circumstance, but don’t you think I should have some kind of input on things that affect our child? How is it fair that you play the biology card and it turns out it’s a trump card?” I’m sure she loves it when I make gaming metaphors.

It was all theoretical at this point. The discussion revolved around a comment she had read on an online article discussing bad husbands in the delivery room. One example had been a guy who, when the mother asked for an epidural, told his wife, “Come on, honey. We can do this!” Universally he had been reviled but I felt there was more to it. Perhaps they had agreed earlier that they would try for as natural of a birth as possible. It seemed like he was merely cheerleading, although I sort of understood that his use of the pronoun was a bit mistimed. My contention which was leading us down the path of disagreement was that husbands shouldn’t be chastised for offering opinions about labor process just because they weren’t the ones who had to do it. Initially my example had been that Nik once told me, “You can’t hold anything I say in the delivery room against me.” I was merely suggesting that the same ought to hold true. As much duress as men aren’t under in that situation, it’s still sort of new and scary. Plus, I say more stupid things per day than the populations of many second world countries combined, so my odds of not being a fool during delivery were vanishingly slim.

Eventually we were here, debating how much input on all things parental a father could really have when the executor of those decisions was, by definition, the mother. Nik was nodding as well, but not in agreement, more in understanding. “Well, you can have input, but you can’t have the say.”

I considered this. In a phony authoritarian voice I said, “That sounds like ‘Your opposition has been noted for the record, Mr. Dad.'” Nik curled her lip in a way to suggest, well, like, yeah. I softened my voice. “Can we at least agree that I should be some part of the decision making process?”

She tried to hide the eye roll, but I still caught it. “Of course we can.”

I’ve considered the prospect of parenthood for many years at this point. I never thought it would take less time than was necessary for the child to gestate to realize how challenging it actually was going to be.

00:07

Ultrasound technicians like to pretend they’re privy to some deep magicks, enabling them some true sight when they wield their arcane implements of divination. Honestly, they just have a lot of practice staring at grainy video feeds and speaking with authority. By the time the 20-week scan arrived, I’d seen about half a dozen or more of these in the last couple of years and felt like I was getting pretty good at seeing what they could see.

It helped when I realized that what often makes it strange-looking is that you can see completely through all the tissue most of the time. I guess it makes sense if you can see through the skin and organs of the mother that the sonic waves don’t conveniently stop when they hit the baby’s body. So sometimes you can see the baby from the bottom and catch a glimpse of its tiny, developing brain. On a related subject, I sometimes have a really tough time not making inappropriate jokes. For the record, ultrasound appointments in which they examine your fetal child to determine if everything is developing properly? Not great stages for witty stand-up routines.

I could tell the tech and Nik were discussing something; the lady squishing the paddle through the ultrasound fluid, more than a little reminiscent of hair gel, was talking a steady clip and adjusting various knobs and dials on the machine. I was in another land. I was watching my daughter roll and bounce, springing her head back and pushing off with tiny feet from the lining of my wife’s uterus. She was, it seemed, playing. It was the kind of moment you might catch if you walk up to a child’s room and find them alone, unaware of your presence. They softly entertain themselves with something mundane and maybe repetitive, lost in the world of minor activities that are still new to these inexperienced creatures. She was swimming, or jumping, or just rocking herself.

It looked like fun.

00:08

When I work from home, I tend to sit at the dining room table. The desk in the spare room/soon-to-be-nursery is always ridiculously cluttered and far too crowded with other computer peripherals from the aging desktop we can’t quite seem to part with for my laptop. Plus when I’m out in the main part of the house I don’t feel as much like I’m just stuck back in my cube at work. Nik, especially these days, prefers the couch. From my station it’s nice because we’re more or less facing each other and that makes it easy to chat while I work and she does her thing, usually studying or reading or watching TV.

She has a weird obsession about her face and makeup: She claims she had horrible acne as a teenager and she regularly complains about suffering from adult acne although I never really noticed it in high school and I don’t think it’s even remotely as bad now as she makes it out to be. But regardless she made a set of rules that she lives by regarding her skin. For one, she never leaves the house without makeup. This is frequently inconvenient for me since that means there is no such thing as her just “running out” to pick up something from, say, the 7-11 on the corner. If something needs to be picked up quickly, I’m the guy. For another, she never sleeps or lies down with makeup on. That means that if she has plans to take a nap at any point during the day, she tries as much as she can to avoid getting ready to go out until after the nap.

Sometimes, this doesn’t work. We’d had an OB appointment earlier that morning which had necessitated her getting her makeup on and she had class that evening so she couldn’t even get ready for bed early. But it was clear she was fading and needed to get some rest. She compromised by arranging some pillows on the couch and sitting in a more or less reclined position, head back, feet up, hands folded gently across the expanse of her stomach.

I was busy working, head down in some crisis of the moment and I stopped to crack my neck. As I did I pulled off my glasses and rubbed my eyes, catching a glimpse of the clock to see that I still had hours left to go in my work day. In an effort to shave a few extra seconds off my work and add a bit more mental refreshment, I looked around the room and my eyes rested on Nik.

She lay there, sort of awkwardly positioned but looking almost improbably relaxed, and I noted that the sun was low in the sky so it shone past the tall trees outside the balcony, and through the opened blinds on the patio door, illuminating her face. She says regularly that she doesn’t have that “pregnant glow,” which I believe she considers to be little more than myth. I sat for the full minute, watching that glow come from both within her and shining from without, cast by the golden sun and lighting her up the way rooms do when she enters. The soft rise and fall of her breathing, the barest of smiles tipping the edges of her mouth, a cool serenity in her expression the way she’s looked since she found she was pregnant.

I reminded myself to swallow, and reluctantly turned back to my tasks, wondering exactly how I happened upon this state of unimaginable fortune.

00:09

I don’t even remember the dream, now. In fact, given that it had wrenched me out of slumber several hours before, I didn’t even really remember it as I stood zombie-like in the shower later that morning. I was trying to concentrate on the pounding of the hot water against my neck and shoulders and not on the dream. Or the memory of the dream. Or maybe just the feelings of loss and sadness that had permeated my mind since it had played out in my subconscious.

All the books say expectant fathers often dream about their own dads, and while the specifics of the nightmare were nebulous and slippery, sliding further away on the masochistic occasions that I tried to recapture them, I do remember this: When I woke up, near to tears, I asked a concerned Nik who had shaken me out of it, “Is my dad okay?”

I guess the connective thread that binds fathers to sons as they become fathers themselves is predictably strong. The notion, passed into my waking forebrain, of losing my own father was readily contrasted with my sense of apprehension at suddenly having an entire set of people who depended on me and found value in my existence who would be left behind and, ostensibly, worse off in the case of my demise. It’s all very morbid and depressing to contemplate, especially before breakfast.

I honestly don’t know how we do it most of the time. I mean “we” in the most inclusive sense, the humans who get up knowing full well how tragically fragile our lives can be, and we carry on doing our thing, spending our time like borrowed money understanding that with each new relationship we forge we create another strand in a web made of spun glass, as easily shattered by a stiff wind as by a swung hammer. The shower thundered against the backs of my ears, and I listened carefully to its drumming, aware at once how dangerous and incredible this world can be. I shifted my weight a little, thinking it was probably getting to be time to dry off, get out and continue my day.

Maybe that’s just how we do it. We get up. We kiss our families. We face the day as bravely as we know how. We just hope. It seems somehow worth it, though thousands of years of poetry and art and music have tried in vain to describe why, we just sense it. Somehow it matters. Somehow, it’s worth sharing.

I decided to let the water run, just a bit longer.

00:10

It was the sixth time we’d visited Old Navy in as many weeks. When Nik first started to show, she was pretty pleased with her body. She had been on an impressively strict exercise regimen prior to conceiving and the first trimester had been a loathsome ordeal during which Nik was locked in a tense battle of wills with her own stomach. In this corner, crippling nausea. In the other corner, Nik’s lifetime aversion to regurgitation. The bout was ultimately ruled a draw but each landed some vicious blows.

Anyway, going into the second trimester Nik had actually lost weight, which didn’t make her doctor ecstatic but I’ve yet to meet a female who didn’t find weight loss, regardless of circumstance, a net positive. I’m fairly sure chemotherapy patients at least start off my saying, “All things considered, I’m pretty happy with the results.” She was starting to show in those blissful early visits but was only stretching her waistband a bit from the bump and overall her confidence was high.

I suppose “blissful” is a relative term. Shopping with Nik is a very effective tool in building patience. For one thing, she’s almost—almost—as picky about her clothing as she is about her food. Which means she can walk into any of two dozen stores packed floor to ceiling with garments, make a single circuit through the rows of jeans and dresses and shirts and jackets and return to the entrance declaring with authority: “They don’t have anything here.” It’s like a strange shopping blindness and I’ve found through repeated trial and error that picking something up and showing it to her does not penetrate the filter.

The other part of the equation is that she hates trying on clothes. I mean she really hates it. Given the choice between trying on clothes and stuffing live carpenter ants into her nostrils, I’m guessing the first thing out of her mouth would be, “How many ants are we talking here?” Practically this results in her returning a lot of clothes. I mean a lot. Every single trip to the clothing store(s) has, in our ten years plus as a couple, resulted in at least one item that needs to be returned. Of those approximately seventy-four trillion garments, I’d estimate one-third have actually made their way back to the place of purchase to be exchanged for cash or credit. Goodwill shoppers frequently petition us to move into their region when our leases expire.

I believe it was the former issue that ultimately led to this moment. It wasn’t that we didn’t see any maternity items, but Nik didn’t like any of them. She was also trying—and you will detect no note of complaint in this fact from me—to avoid spending a lot of cash. Naturally such ideals are lofty; lacking a large or persistent customer base maternity shops have decided to price according to demand and demand is high when as each week passes the figure a woman once only thought she loathed transforms into a mocking caricature of what she’s always envisioned herself to look like on her darkest days. Given the very real prospect of trying to squeeze an expanding body into a shirt that fit mere months ago and having the result resemble those Pillsbury biscuit cylinders when they’ve been accidentally dropped at the checkout line, women will pay upwards of $200 for an eyepatch if it makes them feel a little bit more attractive.

The obvious tragedy here is that pregnant women look, to outside observers, adorable by their very nature. We are genetically programmed to have a melting fondness for the rotund pregnant form unless we are actually the ones who are pregnant. Cruelly, maternity outlet stores capitalize on this biological fact like wolves serving starving sheep crabgrass à la mode in some famine-stricken region.

I’m not sure if I was shocked or relieved to find that even during the months Nik had spent shopping for maternity clothes, stores who didn’t specialize in them seemed to be ridding themselves of stock. I guess it’s difficult to justify charging $86 for a maternity T-shirt when you have regular, non-maternity T-shirts in XL two aisles over selling for $5.99.

But this Old Navy had clearly sold maternity clothes, they had sold them to Nikki, earlier in this exact pregnancy. Now here we were a week later, operating under Pregnant Lady Logic which suggests that seven days is all it takes for an entire rotation of a store’s stock. We were bewildered to find the spot we had checked to see the exact same elastic-waist pants and mid-paneled jeans and stretchy tank tops the prior Saturday was now an extension of the Jr. Ms. department like an encroaching vine of youthful non-reproduction had overtaken the motherhood section in the night. Nik approached a woman wearing an Old Navy name tag, tiny fists balled, clearly expecting a fight.

“You don’t have any maternity clothes.”

The employee looked up lazily from her strenuous task of folding. “No.”

“No? So where are they?”

“Where are what?”

Nik’s brow furrowed. “Where are the clothes?” The employee matched her rumpled expression and looked around, clearly thinking, look around lady, they’re everywhere. I didn’t have time to inject a friendly word of advice warning the girl about how pointing out the clothes was fruitless.

“I’m sorry ma’am,” the employee said, dropping the half-folded skirt onto the stack in front of her, “but what?”

“I’m looking for the maternity clothes,” Nik said, a little optimistic now that they were finally getting somewhere.

The girl, whose name tag read, “Mindee” and was adorned with what I presumed were supposed to be floating hearts but looked more like a child’s first clumsy attempts at the capital letter B, spoke slowly, now understanding that she was dealing with a challenged couple. “We don’t carry maternity clothes. Like I said.”

“What?” It was Nikki’s turn to be perplexed. “You just had them—”

Mindee cut her off. “Yeah, we got rid of them.” She resumed her skirt-folding. “Sorry.” She didn’t sound the least bit.

I could tell Nik was ready to launch into a tirade questioning the marketing decisions and lineage of every single employee who received a paycheck from Gap, Inc. I swiftly interjected, “Thanks,” and began tugging Nik by the arm toward the front doors. She was irate and hardly softened her voice much less her tone as she adjusted her focus from the shopgirl onto me, which I suppose was the intended effect of pulling her out, though just then I couldn’t remember why.

She was practically growling: “How are you going to just up and stop selling maternity clothes? What, did people stop getting pregnant all of a sudden!? Because, oh look! Here’s a pregnant woman RIGHT HERE and she thinks this is complete bul—”

The young man clearly knew nothing about the encounter at the rear of the store. He had been given some menial fabric-related task up near the entrance and obviously had been instructed to greet every customer as they entered and to cheerfully bid them farewell as they left. He was only doing his job when he piped up in a brisk voice as we stormed past, “Have a great day!”

Without even pausing for a breath Nik broke off her epithet and brightened her own voice into the patented Cheerful Nikki Phone Chirp: “Thanks! You too!”

00:11

At first it had seemed like one of those things, odd coincidences where something could be interpreted several ways but it was just nice or funny or pleasant to pick the unlikely explanation. But it was getting uncanny. Nik had popped on the TV just for a moment to set up the TiVo to record the Sharks game that night and when she was done she had dropped it back into Live TV which for whatever reason was set to Animal Planet. The show was some random pseudo-documentary probably full of dubious science about lions. As a sort of joke she had addressed our cat directly: “Hey, Dixie! Those are like, your cousins or something. Check it out.”

The cat had turned her head toward the TV, regarded it in her cool catty fashion for a moment, and then sat down, still staring straight at the set. Nik and I had shared a laugh. “I think she’s intrigued,” I remarked from my station at the dining room table. We tried to transition back into whatever conversation we’d been having before the game had come up.

But it was increasingly difficult to ignore the amusing spectacle of the cat who, for all appearances, was actually watching TV. She hunkered down into her relaxed, belly-down position with all four feet under her. She was apparently transfixed. “Wow,” Nik commented, “It really does look like she’s watching it.”

We had sat there for a few more minutes, watching her look intently at the television, waiting for her to break the spell. Then the show went to commercial, and things got surreal. As some ad for breakfast meats or impotency drugs came on, Dixie diverted her attention, staring first down at the carpet and then gazing languidly around the room. We had watched as several more commercials aired and she showed none of the previous interest in what was being displayed. And now the commercials faded and the show started up, some baritone voice-over artist booming, “Welcome back to Animal Planet!”

And the cat returned her attention to the show. She had watched the lions, stopped caring during the commercials, and was now glued again to the set, watching as the pride stalked some breed of Elk or another. “I’ve never seen a cat actually watch TV before,” I said aloud.

Dixie shot her attention over to me, giving me one of those wicked kitty glares that suggests, in a best case scenario, murder. I lowered my voice, “Sorry. Geez.”

She turned her head back, disturbance quelled for the moment.

00:12

There was no earthly reason for us both to be up that late. I was slated to work the next day although my sickly discomfort and sleeplessness was making that feel less and less likely by the moment. Nik, on the other hand, was just having one of her usual rough nights dealing with temperature control issues, aches, pains, discomfort with any of her recommended sleeping positions and you know, the regular stuff pregnant women go through like frequent urination and being woken by hunger.

Despite the unlikelihood of it all, here we were at four in the morning, sitting in the living room in un-slept-in pajamas, flipping through the channels. She munched on some late night snack or another while I curled my lip at both my gurgling stomach and the ridiculous choice of programming that late at night. I stopped on some random sports channel and dumped the remote onto Nik’s extended belly. “You find something.”

“Hmm-mm.” She said around a mouthful. “You do it.”

“I already tried,” I whined. “It’s your turn.”

“Well, I won’t,” she declared simply and definitively. We engaged in a non-uncommon battle of the wills as Ultimate Fighting played on our set.

“See? You won’t pick something so we get to watch these two dudes grope each other and—” a contestant punched the other in the head several times in rapid succession, interrupting my thought. “Oh snap!” I cried. That quickly, the match was over and clearly they had spent too much time hyping the event prior to the fight taking place because the post-game interviews were performed as the credits rolled by too quickly to actually read.

“Who actually watches this garbage?” Nik said, not necessarily revolted.

“Well, we do, for one.” I said.

“Because you won’t pick something good for your poor pregnant wife to watch,” she taunted. I just scowled in response.

Our banter may have continued, but the fighting show ended as abruptly as the match itself and the next moments would capture our attentions and seal our destinies for the next thirty minutes to come: The thrilling, self-declared NON STOP ACTION screaming from the intro to television’s only show dedicated to the noble sport—nay art—of turkey hunting.

00:13

Fathers are granted very little opportunity to connect on any level with their children until after their birthday. This is not some conspiracy organized by humanity’s sorority of mothers, it’s merely a fact inherent in the structure of the proceedings designed by God. I guess He figures that moms are going to be the ones handling the bulk of the physical contact anyway once the child arrives be it via breastfeeding or a slobbery thumb rubbed across the cheek to dislodge particles of Cheeto, dirt and congealed oatmeal. If there is any time to acclimate both mother and child to this bodily connection, it’s straightaway.

But dads on the other hand have to work to find that chemistry. Being uninitiated, I can’t say how much effort is involved, but I know that Nik has been talking to our daughter for months now, explaining the nuances of music and expressing her love and warning about the inherent insanity of her paternal unit. I, on the other hand, attempt to talk to her and end up feeling like I’m just talking to my wife via some odd bellybutton conduit. It feels sort of awkwardly silly, not unlike the times where I speak in a funny voice as if I were our cat, anthropomorphized, and she responds back. I know in an abstract sense that our girl is in there, a real person just too small to come out and be seen and held and kissed and loved, I just can’t get a sense for what she’s like.

I’m reading a stack of comic books, Nik is half watching something on TV and half fiddling around on her laptop. Abruptly she stops and sets down her computer, reaching over quickly to grasp my wrist. She drags my hand over toward her and I resist a little because I’m weird about being made to do things without any context or explanation. She plants my palm on her belly, low down toward her waistline and pushes my fingers under the elastic of her pants a few inches, a familiar touch that would be wildly inappropriate for anyone but me.

I know what she’s doing but honestly she’s been doing it for about a week and a half now and so far all that happens is she says excitedly, “Did you feel that?” I’m forced to respond truthfully in the negative which always leaves her looking crestfallen and me feeling a bit guilty. I’m even a bit annoyed at this point because I don’t expect anything will happen for a few weeks yet and I’m not looking forward to this scene playing out dozens of times before I finally give up and fib telling her oh yes, I did in fact feel that aw isn’t it so sweet and special. I’m really just wanting to get back to the adventures of the Teen Titans at this point.

Nik is valiantly patient with me. She likes to say that she envies my own patience but really all I offer is a detached indifference to most things that masquerades as patience. Her ability to never give up, to refuse to accept anything that resembles defeat no matter how long it takes no matter what toll there may be is real and genuine. It is unwavering. It is patience. She smiles as sweetly as I’ve ever seen her and she whispers, “Say hello to your daddy.”

The kick is little more than a soft thump, a light breeze tapping against my palm. It happens in slow motion, like a tiny high five shown for dramatic effect at the end of a championship game. One single moment, one tiny snapshot of time. One blink. One kick into my palm, and Nik glows. Her stomach seems to hum and it’s almost like there was a flashlight shining within her womb, silhouetting our baby against her smooth skin. She stretches her miniscule, developing hand into mine and we embrace the only way we are allowed at this moment. I linger there, frozen in a moment of pure contentment as we connect as one. Our family.

“Hi daddy.”

And I exhale.