November 9, 2006 ~ A Letter to Morgan
On Father's Day, back in June, I gave Morgan the Complete Calvin and Hobbes. It had been a favorite comic for both of us, growing up, and I knew that he would have a completely new perspective on those strips now, as a father. I imagine, too, that Calvin and Hobbes will be something for Grove and Morgan to share together, once Grove is older. Accompanying it, I gave a long letter to Morgan, wanting to record some memories for him. The following is that letter.
June 18, 2006 (Father's Day)
I wanted to list some memories and moments that I will always cherish about your first year as a father and the decisions leading up to it.
You surrendered your dream of grad school, a doctorate, a professorship, so that we could have a child.
I will never forget the look on your face that evening at Graveyard fields under the rhododendrons and laurels, when you told me that you wanted to start trying for a child. Love and hope, passion and awe mixed with a slight smile that dared fate.
During the long period when we were trying (and trying and trying) to conceive, you would get cranky and snappish every time my period came, disappointed that yet another month had gone by with no baby. Much to my surprise, you seemed even more upset than I was.
During the entire pregnancy, I never did any chores. You came home at night and you did the sweeping, the cleaning, the dishes, the trash, feeding the dogs, scooping their pen. You wordlessly swept in to deal with any smells that could trigger my nausea. When you had to leave on a business trip, you cleaned the house beforehand and took care of all the little details like pre-cutting the dog's chicken and making sure the car had gas.
You wouldn't let me lift anything, kept anything chemical away from me, and shielded me from anything that could bring harm to the baby or the pregnancy, even down to details like making sure I never had to pump gas. You drove everywhere so that I would have no opportunity for stress.
Every night you cooked me a fresh, nutritious meal. You made sure I was getting my iron. If I craved something, you made sure I had it, putting up with countless bouts of mustard potato salad and burritos and fresh spinach in everything.
"This week our baby's heart will start beating," I told you. Awe came over your face. "Really? I didn't realize the heart started so soon, after only four weeks. Wow. Teeny tiny heart!" You smiled. I held my finger and thumb just barely apart and smiled, mimicking you, "Teeny tiny heart!" All week, all I had to do to make you smile was say, "Teeny tiny heart!"
You held me as I cried from the sciatic pain, then helped me up every time, helped me overcome it, helped me find ways to cure it. You gave me massages and propped me up in bed.
When I despaired over finances or medical bills, you just calmly asserted that it would be all right, that we'd find a way through. And you cut out your few luxuries to make sure that it would.
You never lost patience with me through the hormonal mood swings. You'd just take my hand or touch my face or hug me until I realized what was happening and regained control.
As you laid your ear against my belly and listened to the baby's heartbeat through my skin, a happy, curious look would come over your face.
Though you proclaimed, "That's so weird!" when the baby moved, you enjoyed feeling the little kicks and movements. You joked with me about how very active the baby was inside me, how we were going to be very busy trying to keep up once that baby was out. (Either that, or this baby had a few extra legs!)
With a couple friends, you moved a heavy antique piano all the way across town because you wanted "our child to grow up in a house full of music."
You came to every single prenatal visit and childbirth class. You were deeply invested in every decision and intensely supportive in carrying them through.
You prepared the house for the homebirth, patient through my nesting spurts, and you deep-cleaned everything from top to bottom.
Though you were still a little scared to be a father, by the third trimester you could not wait to meet your child.
Reading a pregnancy book one night, you looked up at me with a smile and said, "I just want to meet our baby. I didn't think I'd ever say this, but I'm ready. We're as prepared as we'll ever be."
You went without chocolate or sweets in the house for those nine months in support of my giving them up for the baby, then surprised me with chocolate after I gave birth, knowing that it had been incredibly hard for me to give up, knowing how much I'd missed it.
Through the entire three days of labor, you never willingly left my side. You never even left me so that you could get some sleep. The midwives had to force you to leave me long enough to eat.
And through that long, long labor, you held me, walked with me, dressed me, undressed me, breathed with me through contractions, drew me baths, helped me into new positions, rubbed my back, held my hand, stared into my eyes, fed me little bits of food, administered remedies, and gave me sips of tea. You pulled my hair back, rubbed me with cool cloths, whispered encouragement into my ear. You didn't care who saw you half-dressed and disheveled, you were there for me and me only. You made me rest when I needed to and made me keep going when I couldn't. You were kindness, patience, and support personified.
Throughout the labor, you were not a "coach." Instead, you were my loving partner, supporting me in every way you knew how, showering me with love and care.
When we had to make the decision to transfer to the hospital, you helped me weigh the options but would not make the choice for me. And once the choice was made, you did everything in your power to support me. You knew that my biggest birth fear was coming true, and you tried everything you could to shield me from it. You were my constant and my rock through all of that disappointment. When our dreams died, you let me grieve them; you did not give me platitudes or false hopes. Instead, you packed everything I needed, you helped me dress and go to the car, and you made sure I was as comfortable as possible.
When we arrived at the hospital, you were literally traumatized by the fact that you were forced to fill out paperwork down at the front desk, for you knew that I was scared and you were not at my side for the first time during the whole long ordeal--at a time when I probably needed you the most. You rushed to return to me.
You protected me wherever you could from that rude and uncompassionate nurse. When she started to insert the needle for the IV without even warning me, you warned me instead. When she forced you to leave my side, you came around to me from the other side of the bed, holding me from behind. When she started talking about needing to intervene because of the baby's heart decelerations, you pointed out that they had only happened when she had pricked me with the needle and my adrenaline had spiked.
When Jan took over and announced that I was fully dilated, that pitocin would not be needed, you took my hand and when the relieved, happy smile spread across my face, tears started streaming down yours. "You did it. We're there! You did it!" you started whispering, holding my eyes with yours. I was thinking, "No, we did it." I felt so triumphant in that moment, and we were an isolated island of joy.
Near the end of all that pushing, when I was on my back, on oxygen, turning purple as I strained, you looked at me like I was a goddess and like I was dying, both at once. You held your breath, clenched your jaw and strained with me at each push and didn't even realize that you were doing it (afterwards you nearly fainted, not from the blood or the shock of birth, but from your lack of breath and your straining). You did it wishing it could count for me.
Yet even through all that, you still held me and whispered your encouragements.
And then the crowning, and I grabbed and pulled onto my belly our slippery bloody baby who cried and breathed, and, even though I felt as if I was irreparably broken, I was laughing and crying tears of joy, and you were smiling in relief with your heart shattered all around us. Jan asked you what the gender was, "A boy," you said, though I already knew that, having felt the evidence as I clutched him against me. "Do we have a name?" "Grove," we murmured together, and then they made you sit down, since you'd strained yourself so much pushing and holding your breath.
And for every required test, every moment he was not in my arms, you were there with him soothing and comforting him, touching him, talking to him.
As Jan sewed me back up where I tore, you bathed him. I remember watching from across the room. You were so tender, explaining everything you were doing, soothing him with your hands, your voice.
You held him while I went to pee after the birth, after the stitches. I had left the door open, and I saw you there, across the room, holding your son, talking to him. The pain of peeing after I'd been stretched and torn took me by surprise, and I know it showed on my face. A few drops and I had to stop, cringing. You caught my eyes in that moment and the compassion on your face went straight to my heart. I willed myself to finish all in one spurt, the pain washing over me but your love and compassion holding me from across the room.
We realized after the birth that you had been so concerned about my comfort and needs that you had forgotten to pack anything for yourself. No underwear, no toothbrush, no extra clothes. So you wore a hospital gown without any embarrassment, even when you accompanied Grove out in the corridors to various tests, and when the rude nurse made fun of you, you just ignored her.
That first night you slept on the floor next to my bed, and you jumped up every time he fussed--disoriented, but wanting to help. You changed his diaper or helped me sooth him, and when the nurse insisted he go under the warming light you had your hands on him the whole time, talking to him.
Every time I had to go to the bathroom or change positions, you were there. You continued to go without food but made sure I ate. You met every need of Grove's instantly so that I would not get up.
The morning after he was born, overwhelming as everything was, you still were so attuned to whatever might please me--you made sure I looked out the window to see the beautiful, ice-coated mountains and trees.
You were filling out the birth certificate, and we were still unsure of what we would use for a middle name. We'd been torn between using my maiden/middle name or something new. You joked, "Heh. I could just put whatever I wanted on here, like 'Grove Toad Davis' and you'd never know until we pick up the certificate weeks from now." From that moment on, your nickname for him became Toad.
The day after he was born, I came out of the bathroom after a much-needed shower to find you sitting on the bed with him in your lap saying with wonder, "Wow. You are so smart!" He was watching your face intently. You explained that you'd stuck out your tongue at him and he had stuck his out. Surprised, you thought, "No way. He can't possibly be mimicking this early," then stuck out your tongue again and he stuck his out right back. From the very beginning, you were filled with wonder at all that he accomplished. A day old and he was both holding his head up and sticking his tongue out when prompted, a genius in his father's eyes.
And when the hospital procedures and rules became too much for me, but they would not let us go home, you comforted me, had me sleep, reassured me that it would all be over soon.
Less than a week after he was born, I remember lying in my herbal bath and the thought of losing Grove overwhelmed me. Just the thought of that loss wracked me with grief. Silent tears started pouring down my face. You walked in to check on me, your smile melting into concern as soon as you saw my face. "Oh no! Girly, what's wrong?" I explained, haltingly, that I knew it was ridiculous since Grove was fine, but that the thought of it... You just nodded, and we talked about hope and love. You said what you felt for Grove was incredibly deep and powerful, and you said, "I've been trying to find the words to describe it to my childless friends like Brad or Joel, why... what it is like. How much Grove means to me. They don't want children, at least not yet, and I was the same such a short time ago, but... It's just different when it's your own child. The last few days have been incredible." We talked and talked until my bath was cold, recounting the labor and birth and our love for that little Toad.
Introducing him to Rose and Monty for the first time, we were so nervous. What if our pack couldn't get along with the new pup? We picked them for their gentleness, but what if? We love the dogs, we love Grove, what would we do if they weren't compatible? Our hearts would break. And if they hurt him... I couldn't even think it. You were so careful, bringing them in while I held him. And we both exhaled such huge sighs of relief when they were so gentle and loving toward him.
For the first four weeks, until you went back to work, I never changed a diaper, never had to lift a hand to do anything. You (and our mothers) waited on me. My only job was to heal, to feed Grove, and to hold him.
Grove fell asleep in your arms so often in those early days, prompting that tender look on your face.
You threw down one of the baby books after reading for a time and said, "These books, they are all written with the 'you' directed toward the mother. And I flip to the section for fathers, and all of them, every single one--do you know what the section for fathers is filled with? 'Why you can't have sex with your wife right after she's given birth.' No shit! Like I don't understand that, after watching what you went through last week. Do they really think I'm that stupid, that dense, that insensitive? What I want to know from these books... I want to know more about Grove, what he needs, what changes he's going to go through, how he's going to grow, what I need to provide for him..." You looked genuinely hurt. I suggested you read the mother-directed parts and try to ignore their gendered aim, but I knew it wouldn't be the same. I inwardly cursed the parenting book industry for so unfairly stereotyping fathers.
Those same baby books warned, "Never have the baby sleep beside the father because the father isn't as aware of his child and will roll over onto the baby." Oh please. You, the lighter sleeper, were more aware of him than I was at night, always waking at the first sign that he was uncomfortable. He slept between us, and I never once worried that he was not safe.
We took him to the Biltmore House when he was just a week old. [My mother had bought tickets months before, not knowing Grove would come so late.] Me in a wheelchair since I wasn't supposed to be walking. But what I will never forget is how they did not have a bathroom on the tour, but he had pooped his diaper. My mother calmly went over to a bench, just five feet from the constant stream of tourists, laid out the changing supplies and helped me change him. You about had a nervous breakdown. "Wait, what are you... NO! We can't change him there! Agh!" And you tried to block the view of him. An old woman came over, "Oh, what a cute little baby! Aww..." and didn't even notice that we were in the process of changing him, but you were blushing so red. It was the first in a long line of the public embarrassments that a child brings, and I couldn't help but smile at your reaction.
Such joy if you stumbled upon something that entertained him in those early days. You'd keep him entranced with your waving fingers, or reflections of light on the wall, smiling with his expression of wonder.
During those first few weeks before his sleep patterns became regular, when we were waking up every hour or two, you were so patient. I remember several occasions of late-night giggles when we joked through the sleep-deprivation. And I never had to get up. You were up immediately for every needed diaper change or rocking. The little songs we made up and then would laugh over, "Little Grove Toad, Needs his Mommy Node, Little Grove Toad..." when he was hungry, which changed with a poopy diaper to, "Little Grove Toad, Dropped a Daddy Load, Little Grove Toad..."
Returning to work was so hard on you, after those first intense weeks. So much there to catch up on, but to leave your little Toad for the first time! To miss important milestones in his life. I ached for you.
Yet every day, when you come home, he gives you the biggest, most joyful grin that he has. Daddy's home!
[Our doctor] had recommended that we pump breast milk once a day for you to feed him with a bottle, just in case we needed to be able to leave him with someone. So we did, and he took to it just fine, but then things got hectic and busy for a week, and you didn't do it. After that week, he refused to drink from the bottle, would scream for me. Our instincts were saying, "Oh well. We'll just give it up. It's not that important; no need to make him cry with frustration." We hadn't even really wanted to use a bottle at all in the first place. But the doctor said, "Oh, just wait it out, he'll take it if you're persistent." You were so patient, trying--more patient than I was. And he would take it eventually, after a screaming session. But finally, after a week of that torture, you said, "No. This goes against what we know is right with him. I hate making him cry. It's not good for him, all that energy going into screaming rather than interacting with us, growing, learning. It has become the least favorite part of the day for all of us. And it's pretty much the only time he ever really cries anymore." And thus, one of our first intentional steps away from doing what the experts said.
Those early evenings when we'd watch movies or Star Trek episodes as I nursed him down.
One evening, I was at the end of my rope. Grove had been incredibly fussy all day, teething pain, plus had refused to nap, and I'd had it. You took him out to the living room and, in a moment of pure parenting inspiration, sat down with him at the piano. You played a few notes, then showed him how. It took him a few minutes, but once he realized that those loud notes were happening when he struck the keys... you said he looked up at you with a look you will never forget. Wonder and joy. He was completely enthralled with the piano for a half hour afterward and cried when you tried to move away.
You still change most of the evening and weekend diapers. You are still the one to get up in the night when he wakes in the crib, ready to be transferred to our bed. You often rock him back down, too, if he wakes earlier in the evening, before we're in bed.
When you get home in the evening and start making dinner, I put him down in the high chair to keep you company. As you cook you talk to him and make up the most ridiculous little songs. He smiles and laughs and plays. Even if he'd been in a bad mood before, he always cheers up when Daddy comes home.
One morning when I begged you to take care of him for a few hours while I got a few hours of much needed sleep, you bathed him, dressed him, then told me you were taking him "on an adventure" and left. I worried so much that I didn't get much sleep. But I'm the only one who can feed him! What if he starts screaming far from home? And all of those other little details that a mother frets about. Two hours later, you came home, smiling, and Grove was quietly playing and smiling in his car seat. You'd had a blast. A tradition was born. Now every Sunday morning is Daddy time. I get some sleep, and Grove and you get an adventure for three hours or so.
When you play with Rose he loves to watch, squealing with excitement when she howls at you or "talks."
You are already looking forward to baking and decorating special birthday cakes for him. You are always coming up with ideas for good learning toys or books to find for him. You anticipate and look forward to ways to entertain and teach him. So much of your joy, now, is wrapped up in seeing that light in his eyes.
Even though I'm home all day with Grove and do not have a job, you still do at least half of the housework, and you don't expect me to do any cleaning while you are at work. "Your only job is to take care of Grove," you say. "That is more than a full time job anyway. I want you to have time to give your full attention to him, to play with him, teach him, read with him, take him on hikes, sing to him. Part of why he's so interactive and such a happy baby is all of the time and attention you give him all day long. I wouldn't take that from him for anything."
I think a lot of relationships are hurt once children come into the picture by a lack of understanding on both sides. The working partner thinks staying home with the baby all day is all fun and no work, doing "whatever you want" all day, then gets angry that not much housework gets done. Or the stay-at-home partner thinks it must be so nice to have a social life and solve problems and go out to business lunches and be acknowledged and respected for the job you do, and that partner feels his or her "work" of caring for the baby is not appreciated or acknowledged.
But we have so much equality and mutual respect in our relationship. You completely understand the challenging job that I do each day, and you don't expect me to do more than that job. I respect the sacrifice you have made in having to leave for work each day and be away from me, from Grove, from Monty and Rose. And things that are completely normal for me are foreign to many other stay-at-home parents I've talked to. For instance, we both have full access to the bank account and the credit cards and no lines are drawn. You don't insult me with talk of "my money" or "your allowance." We both do housework. And when you come home, you look forward to some time with your "pack," and I look forward to my first break of the day. We work so smoothly together, and I find it so beautiful.
I know this has been a more difficult transition for you than it has been for me. You really weren't sure that you were ready to be a father, but my uncertain fertility pushed us to the decision a bit sooner than you otherwise would have wished. And the huge change in your life has been very hard on you, I know. Very hard, especially since most of our peers are still single and responsibility-free. Grove's utter dependence on us for everything in those first few months was also a shock for you, since you had never really had any experiences around babies, and had only a small idea of what to expect. The messes, the lack of sleep, the lack of much personal time--all of these things have tested you greatly.
At one point you despaired, "I had no idea what it would be like. I was so unprepared, compared with you! I'm just not good at this; I don't have the patience. I'm going to screw up. I don't make a very good father..."
Yet you adapted so quickly to his needs. You became so gentle and careful, instinctively holding him the right way and meeting his needs as they came up. Yes, you're going to screw up; every single parent on Earth can expect that. But you were instantly so gentle, so careful, so kind, so comforting. For someone with no experience at all, you did and continue to do remarkably well. And your patience is growing by leaps and bounds. He's teaching you.
I am so very proud of you, watching this change come over you. You are an incredible father and a spectacular husband. Every day I feel thankful to have found you, and every day I find new reasons for that thankfulness. I'm sure that Grove will feel thankful too.