When I think of Jay’s birth, my memories start with a bowl of frosted mini-wheats, left half-eaten on the dining table as Caroline and I rushed off to the hospital. Hours later I came back and found it sitting there, a last instance in the lives we’d left behind.
With Wally, my memories begin on our front stoop in Philadelphia. In the early evening, hours after Wally was born, I returned home and met my college roommate and Jay. He’d taken care of him while we were gone, and had bought Jay a yellow pickup truck, a present to mark his first day as a big brother. As Jay and I walked upstairs to our apartment, I felt that we were less alone than we had been at the beginning of the day.
And now, with our third son, I think my memories will begin with a scene in our kitchen: I’m standing at the sink, washing the boys’ lunch containers, while upstairs Jay and Wally watch Dinosaur Train and behind me, Caroline rolls out pizza dough, pausing every six minutes or so for an early labor contraction—her hands spread on the counter in front of her, her head down, her eyes closed, knowing she needs to have this baby in stride.
Those early labor contractions progressed quickly, and a little before 1:30am, Leo was born (that’s his blog name). He was purple and wet, with dark hair slicked against his small head. Within seconds he was on Caroline’s chest, crying, and utterly wondrous.
A few years ago, I wrote a post, “The feeling you get when a baby is born.” It was about how before Jay was born, I worried whether I’d show the right kinds of emotions—would I cry the way a new dad was supposed to cry? Would the doctors and nurses see just how happy I was to greet my son? I wrote about how when the time came, Jay’s birth dwarfed those preoccupations.
This time around I might have worried that witnessing the birth of my own child had become too familiar. Halfway through the labor, a nurse came into the room and saw me leaning against a wall, eating a granola bar. “Look at Joe Cool over there,” she said. “I bet this isn’t your first baby.”
There are plenty of experiences in life that grow less exciting the more you have them (watching fireworks comes to mind). But then there are experiences that only deepen with repetition, that are so tremendous and incomprehensible, they’re hard to see the first time around. Watching people marry is like this- if you’ve been married, or have seen lots of other people get married, the significance of those vows becomes a little plainer.
The birth of a child works this way, too. Watching Leo rush into the world early Tuesday morning, I felt the warp and weave of reality shake. And when they placed him on Caroline, we looked at each other, shook our heads in disbelief, laughed, cried real, hard tears. Over the last five years we’ve watched Jay, and then Wally, grow from newborns into real people. And because of that, in those first few seconds, I think I more immediately recognized the consequence of Leo’s arrival.
Who are you? Oh my God. Thank goodness you’re here.