The Drive Home
After only two days, we are instructed to drive home with him, the short duration of the hospital stay surprises both of us Few parents realize how anxiety-producing this can be. We have been talking to my son for almost 10 months, but after giving birth, there is that strange realization that there is a true human being there, not some imaginary creation in your head with fantasies of little league play, musical recitals, university graduations. He is so small, helpless, vulnerable, and we are responsible for his care. This being our first child, we don’t have a roadmap, no guidebook for what to expect. In fact, it surprises us that this common occurrence is not outlined in more detail. So……..what exactly do we do now?
As we exit the sliding doors, the grey day in November hits us with a surprisingly cold sting. Though it is above freezing, it is raining, saturating the air in its coldness. I pull the car around to the front entrance, and I can see Jen’s breath as she exhales. The car seat is not installed properly. All the countless times I was told to take it to a local fire station, where paramedics could instruct me on how to install it properly, were never taken seriously by me. This is the first of many mis-steps I will make as a father.
With a combination of friendliness and thinly-veiled desperation, Jen is able to cajole a hospital staff member to assist us with the car seat. A large man, he drives his right knee deep into the seat, resting all of his weight as he tightens the lap belt. His biceps tighten as he pulls up on the strap. He clearly wants to get it right. After extricating himself from the car, he attempts to move the seat around with both hands. It barely moves. He has done a phenomenal job. I thank him profusely, a way to circumvent my shame for not having done this myself.
The drive home, at 11:30 am on a Thursday, is noteworthy only in its lack of speed. I never go above 50 mph on the highway. I approach every traffic light and stop sign with ginger trepidation, perfectly executing each use of the directional with plenty of advance warning, ensuring every driver within 400 yards knows precisely what I’m doing. The only distraction is my intermittent glances in the rear view mirror, looking at my son. He is swaddled and bundled so well, that I can only make out his cheeks. His color is good, ruddy, so my eyes return to the road. There is little conversation between me and Jen during the ride home. We are all business. Small talk would only be distracting.
We pull into the driveway and bring my son to the house. “Welcome home!....” I utter to him with a smile. “this is your home!” . We walk carefully. Jen cradles the car seat on the hook of her right below, her left hand underneath. She takes each step as through it could result in a slide or a fall, the path strewn with potential invisible hazards. As we enter the house, we place the car seat on the dining room table.
Our next action is utterly perplexing, but relatable to most new parents - we stare at him. We stare at him in silence. It is clear we don’t know what to do.
“Are you hungry?” I chirp up to my wife.
“No, I’m fine” she responds.
There is another pause of silence, and then Jen realizes there is work to be done. She unloads the blankets, diapers, and Enfamil from the bags provided to us from the hospital. I am also instructed to retrieve the breast pump machine from the back of my SUV, a medieval device that is both noisy and comical when running. Another instance where I clearly have the easier role in this process.
We leave my son in the car seat. He looks quite comfortable swaddled there, deeply asleep, his lower jaw tilted to the side. I move the car seat to the coffee table in our living room, giving Jen and me a chance to sit on our couch. Our conversation is stilted, focusing only on the necessities. – where are the diapers? When is his next feeding? What if he doesn’t wake up for his feeding? Do we need to wake him up? The televisions remains off, allowing us to take in the quietness of the moment. Jen leans back into the couch, her blinks getting heavy. She will need some sort of nap soon. His next feeding won’t be for an hour, so she is able to close her eyes. She drifts into a sleep of fatigue, not restful, rather one ordained by your body’s cry for sleep.
I look out at our large picture window behind the couch. There are two young maples in out front year, flanking either side of our front walk. They are skeletal, all of their leaves stripped in an October storm. With two family members asleep, it’s the first moment for true reflection in the past 2 ½ days. It’s real – I thought. We have a son. Soon, there will be visits: from family, from friends, from neighbors. The conversations are all remarkably similar.
“Oh, he’s so small!...” they shout.
“Yes, 5 lbs. 12 ozs. ,” much smaller than we expected, a slightly apologetic tone to my voice. I was hoping for a 9 lb boy, the kind of buy you immediately brand as a future NFL Hall of Famer.
“So adorable……you are truly blessed”. After this, the party typically shares their own experiences. Normally, I would be very receptive to hearing these stories, hoping to gain some insights. But I recognize that they are not telling the story for my sake. Rather, it is the type of story that allows the teller to reminisce on how wonderful it all was, a journey back to their own experience. And I do enjoy seeing their faces light up as they recall each moment: the first diaper change, the first bath, even the sleepless nights.
Once they leave, the house returns to its silence. Jen and I are brought back to parenting. Our exchanges, though extraordinarily polite, focus on checking in with the other person and asking for permission for everything. Is it okay if I take a shower? Is it alright if I grab something from the fridge? Are you okay? We are so thoughtful, as though we think the other person would simply fall to pieces if we leave the room.