Sunday, June 20, 2021

On Manual

 On Manual

“What do you think about kids?” my wife asked.

“They’re OK,” I replied.

That was the only time we talked about kids to my recollection.  Maybe all those other conversations have been obliterated by cosmic rays or something, but that’s the one I remember.

We were walking to our home in London from the pub.  Our spirits were high having downed a couple of pints of London Pride, a highly spirited ale.

Married only a few months we had not really discussed kids.  We were both students working to finish our degrees, looking for that first job.   The prospect of settling down and having a bunch of kids was far, far out on the horizon.

Yes, far, far away.  Way, way out there.  An infinite, cosmic expanse of time.

Four years, to be exact.

Walking into the delivery room at 6 o’clock in the morning was a far cry from that gentle evening’s stroll home not so many years ago.  Circumstances had changed considerably.  Totally out of character, my wife urged me to run red lights.

“Hospital,” she gasped, “now.  Don’t stop.  Don’t stop!”  It was the gasping and instructions that got us in to this situation in the first place, but instinct told me now was not the time to address fine historical points.  Just drive.

The delivery room operated in two completely different space-time continuums:  a speedy, fast get-things-done-now time for us, and a slow-motion, laid back, whatever time for the medical staff.  While I flitted from bed to door to monitoring equipment to bed to door, the doctors and nurses moved in sloth-like slowness, very deliberately and with no concern.

“Are you trained?”

I stopped in my tracks and turned to the nurse who asked the question.

“Trained?  No, I’m not a doctor, that is, not a medical doctor I’m a chemist but I don’t do much chemistry and I work with computers and,” I babbled, but the nurse cut me short.

“Have you and your wife taken childbirth classes?” she asked.

I looked into her eyes which showed the patience of a thousand births and said, “Yes, but we haven’t finished the course.”

She smiled and said, “You’ll finish the course this morning.  You have work to do.  Here’s a damp cloth and some ice chips.”

Wow, it was just like the film.  I began to apply what I had learned and shortly became a world class expert in Brow Wiping and Ice Chip Delivering.

I was surprised by how fast it all ended.  Suddenly, the doctor appeared, there was a flurry of activity and through the ruckus I heard someone say “Nice catch!” and “It’s a little girl.”

I was a father.

I had a daughter and I knew her name because we had only decided on names the night before.  I heard the nurses calling out the numbers and statistics, and I knew what they meant because I had studied for months.  I was prepared for the name and the numbers but I was not prepared for the nurse and the baby.

“Here’s your daughter.”

“What?  Oh, uh, maybe you should give her to my wife.  She’s the baby person.  Over there.  I’ll hold her later, heh, heh, OK?”

The nurse fixed me with a gaze that would have defeated Alexander.

“Sit down now so you can hold your daughter.  I’ll show you how,” she said gently, unblinking.

I sat in the chair and the nurse handed me my daughter instructing me to hold her body here and support her head there.

I was as rigid as a statue.  Looking back, I think it was the first time in my entire life I had held a live baby.  Not the doll or sack of flour like we used in the class, but a real baby; a real person.  I tried to smile and look nonchalant but I was relieved when the nurse told me my time was up and we had to go.

Over the next few days I got a chance to hold my daughter a few times and we fell into a routine in the hospital.  Feeding, cleaning, visiting and back to the nursery.  Life was grand.

When it came time for us to go home there was great fanfare in the ward.  We were given a ceremonious wheelchair ride to the front door, presented a cart of balloons, flowers and supplies, packed into our car and sent on our way.

Our house was quiet.  I unpacked all the stuff and Helen took our daughter to her room for a feeding and a nap.

That’s when it hit me like a brick wrapped in a diaper, like a face-full of strained prunes, like a cry at 2 AM.  What do I do now?

I couldn’t believe that the hospital let us take a baby home and we don’t even have a manual.  How could they be so irresponsible?  All the classes we took taught us how to get us to this point, but what do we do now?

Not only had I never changed a real diaper on a real baby but where was I going to find a baseball glove for hands that small?  I had more questions than answers.

Little did I know, that would never change.

There is something to be said for the phrase “day by day.”  Just take it one day at a time, they say.  Each day was a new adventure and we were amazed how excited we were at little changes.  Sitting up was a big deal.  Crawling gave us personal entertainment.  Walking was a milestone and speaking drew us into rapt attention.

In time the manual wrote itself.  What they never told you is that your child will write the manual, adding a few words every day.  

As a father my job was to support the author, edit the work when I could and hope that the book would be a best seller.