As far as I knew, being a new father meant parading down the hospital hallway flanked by friends and loaded with expensive cigars. It meant slaps on the back and shots of whiskey. My final moments in the hospital were far more stressful.
By noon, we had met with everyone and made all of the requisite pediatric appointments. All that was left was to get you into the car. All newborns are required to leave the hospital in a functional car seat. A wonderful coworker of mine helped me install the car seat, but I had forgotten to figure out how to actually use it. Bleary eyed and trembling from 48 hours of adrenaline and caffeine, I huddled over the seat, trying to figure out which parts to tug on, which parts to connect, and which parts needed to be threaded through which slots. Sweat sluiced down my face. I knew I had let Andrea down. Mercifully, a kind nurse offered to look up the manufacturer’s instructions online. Grateful for the break, I busied myself by transferring all of our stuff (which seemed to have multiplied) to the car.
A nurse slipped us a pacifier on the way down the hall and whispered conspiratorially that even though they weren’t recommended for newborns, the nurses typically let it slide for the inaugural trip to the car. Newborns don’t especially like being in car seats, she said, and pacifiers helped keep them (and us) calm for the ride home.
It was a typical hot and humid June in Arlington. The atmosphere was a soaked sponge. I don’t think I’ve ever driven as slow as I did that during that first ride home. Mommy sat in the back next to you while I cranked the AC and turned off the radio. By the time we got home, your mom and I were nothing more than sacks of raw nerve. She collapsed on the couch to cry while I took you on a tour of your new home. I showed you your bassinet, the kitchen, and my study. I broke down telling you how you would go to school and how you would wear a little backpack filled with pencils, notebooks, and crayons. I dropped to my knees and wept, your impossible lightness cradled against my shoulder.
Luckily for us, Gramps and Nana lived five minutes away. I’m not sure how we would have survived that first day home without their support. Gramps had been a nurse, so he knew exactly what to do. And Nana was an indefatigable source of kindness. They let us nap. They let us cry. Most importantly they let us know that everything was going to be okay.
The rest of that afternoon exists only as a fever dream. Your mother sobbing as you tried to latch while I sputtered words of encouragement from the sidelines. Me sprinting down the street to Rite Aid for medications and bottles and wipes. Neither of us ate supper that night. (By the time you read this I’m sure you’ll understand how big a deal this was)
Your mother and I were determined to get you accustomed to a nightly routine as quickly as possible. At 8:00 PM we turned off the lights, turned on the sound machine, and swaddled you for your dinner. I reached for a book to read to you while you fed. It was Every Little Thing, a children’s retelling of the classic Bob Marley song. Andrea and I alternated pages. The sound of the two of us I singing every page will be forever seared into my heart. No jokes about being off key. No worries about following the beat. Just the two of us reassuring each other (and you, of course) that everything was going to be alright. Maybe not that night, and maybe not for a while. But we loved you and were devoted to you. The three of us were going to be okay.
This letter was written three weeks after your birth. Some things have gotten a little easier. You’ve tolerated your first bath, slept through your first restaurant, and barfed on pretty much every article of clothing we own. You’re learning to follow faces and wiggle from side to side. It’s amazing.
I’m telling you about all of this because it’s a chance to understand your parents and the family you were born into. I want you to know that anxiety is a part of our family’s constellation. So is humor, determination, and compassion. You will have your own struggles and we will be here for you every step of the way. I love you, Joelle, as does your mother and all of our friends and family. We can’t wait to see who you become.