Forty for Forty – #24. Will I Ever Watch TV Again?

Will I ever watch TV again?”

Those were my first words – uttered in the waking light of my first official day as a proud papa. 24 hours prior, I was rousing Andi from bed so we could make the short trek to the South Shore Hospital in South Weymouth, MA where she was scheduled to be induced. We had a 6:45 am call time – so we made sure to get lots of sleep the night before, knowing we had a long day ahead of us. How long is a slippery concept that would elude me until that dream day unfolded into reality but at the time, I’m sure I was fairly convinced that if we were due there for an early morning appointment, we would be beaming parents of a bouncing baby boy just in time for the dinner rush. How foolish my folly!!!

24 hours later – and only 3 hours removed from the moment all the blessed hubbub subsided and Andi and were finally escorted to our maternity ward room, I rose from my converted couch/bed and went for a walk. It was at the bleary, blurry hour of 6:45 am EST when I wandered from our room and made my way down the hall to seek out my Mom – who happened to work the front desk at the adjacent day surgery unit. Rounding the bend, I wiped sleep from my eye and sought solace in my Mom’s welcoming embrace. She was ready to start her professional day even though she had been here late the night before, awaiting the arrival of her first born son’s son – her grandson. She met me with a huge smile. I replied with a weary grunt.

Will I ever watch TV again?

And that’s EXACTLY what they don’t tell you in those baby books. The first moment when you meet your brand new baby is magical – that’s for damn sure. But the euphoria only lasts so long. Then the tiredness settles in. And finally the reality of it all. I AM NOW RESPONSIBLE FOR LIFE!!! Me – the guy who couldn’t raise Sea Monkeys!!! (Seriously – did anyone ever see them floating in their little aquarium?) I remember thinking “What the Hell were we thinking?” There really aught to be a licensing board governing prospective parents. But they don’t put that all in the books – and nobody passes the message along in those blissful days of sweet anticipation – for one vital reason. It’s a grand global shadow conspiracy aimed at preserving one very important goal. If we knew going in just how hard those first few days would be – our human species would perish.

Yes, it’s hyperbole and as I write it now – and look back upon my younger self shambling through those darkened hospital corridors giving my Mom her own private screening to the Night of the Living Ed – I realize that it’s such a small measure to pay for such great reward – a tiny investment that leads to a lifetime of life-affirming returns – and one that Andi and I have successfully cashed in on with great regularity. This Blog stands as toast to that. Colin and Aria are two amazing kids who have added such texture to the fabric of our lives. We were just beginning to paint our shared canvas when they arrived and splashed it with such vibrant, beautiful hues – showing us colors we didn’t even know existed. Without their tiles, our mosaic would be drab and empty.

But in those first few hours – when your life goes from completely carefree to dire, life-altering responsibility – you harbor some crazy thoughts.

Those first few days of your child’s life seem to tick off with such agonizing slowness – as each rotation of the minute hand arcs ever-so-slowly around the clock underscoring just how many minutes of vital, life-sustaining sleep you are losing with every waking moment – which is to say EVERY FREAKING MOMENT. Then something happens in the spell between Year One and Two where those little personalities begin to push from the egg and you really start to believe that you had a hand in creating a real honest-to-goodness person. And the knowledge that you were granted such great power and responsibility and you really went to town in doing the job right – in bringing forth another life to enrich the world – that knowledge can bring the strongest of us to our knees.

I have total recall over every second of those first few days after Colin was born. I remember one early morning, around 4:30 a.m., when Andi and I had been awake for about 36 hours straight, I scooped him up, put him in his car seat and took him on an early morning road trip to allow his Mom an hour or two of peaceful, relaxing sleep. The car did wonders to quiet his boisterous soul so I figured at least 2 out of 3 of us would start the day a little bit bright-eyed. I quickly etched a plan that each morning, I would rise around this time and take Colin to a different Massachusetts scenic location. Once there, I would take a picture of him in his car seat in front of the landmark and some day, could assemble all the pics and stories into a helluva’ embarrassing scrapbook (yeah – I’d throw some bath pics in there just to really tease his prom dates).

Anyway, for our maiden voyage I decided to bring him to the exact spot where it all began for us New Englanders – Plymouth Rock. At the time, we were living in our quaint Cape in Brockton, MA so the ride to Plymouth would be completed just around the time the sun began to crest the horizon. We could stop, take a few pics, grab some coffee and then return home – giving Andi a solid 2 hours of shut-eye.

Everything went according to plan. I hit the back roads, winding my way from Rt 106 to Rt 58 – through East Bridgewater, Halifax, Kingston and eventually Plymouth. Around the time we arrived (5:30-ish), the streets were beginning to unroll and a few early risers were making their way towards the start of a brand new day. We had enough morning light (the best light) to illuminate the shots and then Colin and I did a little sight-seeing before deciding the time was right to begin our trek homeward bound.

When he and I returned to the car, I noticed my cell phone was dark. I had forgotten to turn it on in the rush to get out quickly before further disturbing Andi. I quickly remedied that and was immediately greeted with a dire announcement.

“YOU HAVE 17 VOICEMAILS”

With much trepidation, I keyed in the passcode for my messages.

Message 1:   A sleepy voice – “Hey, It’s Me. I’m just wondering where are…”

Message 2:   “Sorry, I fell asleep there. Anyway, I was just wondering where you guys are. Call home.”

Message 6:   “I’m not too worried. Just wondering where you are. When you get this, call me.”

Message 13:   “OK I’m trying to stay calm but I’m a little nervous here. Where are you guys? CALL ME!!!”

Message 17:   “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY SON, YOU STUPID MUTHAF…” (…and then I dropped the phone. I’m not really sure how that last one ended).

The best intentions, right? Here I thought I could grant Andi a little pardon but like the best Moms do – she keyed in on her beloved little boy, ever willing to sacrifice her sanity for his life. Sleep would come some day.

And of course it did.For a little while at least.

Enter – Aria!!!

“Daddy?”
“What, peach?”
“Are you thinking the same thing I’m thinking?”
“What’s that?”
“I love you!!!”

And that, my friends, is how Daddy’s Little Girls are made. My beautiful little girl, Aria Leigh, hit me with that probing line of inquiry a few years ago and I wilted under the pressure. Forget waterboarding. You want a man to give up his secrets; you simply aim straight for the heart. And my little princess, with her blue eyes wide open in wonder, hoping her Daddy would return her serve with the same expertly crafted slice of sentimentality, knows exactly how to make me talk. In her sweetest little voice, with the most innocent of questions, she makes my day on a daily basis.

Matters of the heart aside, Aria’s inquisitiveness also heralds another truth. My little princess is growing up too swiftly.

It’s hard to believe that almost 7 years ago, Andi and I began the day like any other day, making a routine visit to the docs. While we knew Andi was nearing the end of her pregnancy, she awoke that day not feeling any different. None of those portent signs announcing loud and clear that today was the day – even if May 31st, 2005 was Aria’s predicted arrival date. With Colin, we waited and waited and waited until finally he was scheduled to be induced and then we waited and waited and waited…

With Aria, we were in a doctor’s office at 10:00 a.m. EST, going through the normal routine (she in the exam room, me watching The Crocodile Hunter in the waiting room) when suddenly we were told unceremoniously – “IT’S GO TIME!!!” (Damn these House-wannabes and their impenetrable medical jargon). From there, we were given our marching orders to get to UMASS Medical in Worcester ASAP.

Having met Andi there from work, and with a two-year old Colin in tow, we had two cars to deal with and the sudden need to secure local, immediate babysitting. Fortunately, my buddy Joe resided just down the road in Shrewsbury and we were able to deposit one child in order to withdraw another.

We made it to the hospital quickly and just as swiftly, Aria was born with plenty of time for us to order up dinner, catch the evening news and feverishly flash forward to a lifetime of tea parties, Disney Princess dress-up days, $10,000 monthly text bills and my own brand of shotgun wedding (in that whichever future dude comes a callin’ better watch out for me on the front porch. Of course, my first order of business will be to secure a shotgun and then determine which end points where.)

I kid, of course, but every Daddy’s heart melts at the site of his little girl.

With little boys, we zealously rub our hands together, knowing that we suddenly secured a lifetime excuse to continue playing with all the cool toys. Some Dads see dirt bikes in their future. Others, like me, let their minds drift to the World of Tomorrow – knowing that we (I mean – HE) just has to own the latest video game console. Suddenly it’s no longer a 39-year-old dude shuffling his feet anxiously as he tries to dream up a compelling argument for why he just has to have a Vita (“…b-uuuuu-t all my friends have o-nnnnnn-e” doesn’t seem to cut it.) But with a son as my wingman, we have strength in numbers. Bring on the Xbox 720!!!

So with boys, Dads flash to all the fun they’re going to have. A chance to drink from the fountain and time warp back to our youth, only with the added luxury that in this fancy time of the future, we have so many cooler toys to play with than we did way back when.

Girls are different. (Thank You, Captain Obvious!!!)

A little princess wields a powerful spell and with just a few carefully chosen words (or sometimes just a sly smile from across the room), your little girl can take the biggest, burliest Dad and suddenly transform him into a makeshift Belle. Or Aurora. Or Briar Rose. Or Cinderella. But not Ariel. That’s what she’s wearing.

The bottom line is you’ll do anything to brighten those eyes and bring those rosy cheeks in bloom. You’ll gladly play the part of Princess Jasmine. You’ll happily accordion yourself into the smallest seat in order to daintily sip some pretend tea. You’ll shamelessly lip-synch Taylor Swift tunes into a makeshift hair brush/microphone. You’ll do anything to keep your little lady’s face a glow and her heart full with the knowledge that her Daddy finds her to be the most precious girl on Earth and will do anything to keep her safe… and most of all, happy.

As Aria pirouettes through each calendar year, I sit back and marvel at everything she and her brother bring to the world… and more importantly, to our family.

And we here are, years later. Colin is 8, Aria is 6 – and in a scant few months, they kick those digits to the curb and grab two more. And for Colin, it’s his last in single numbers. Next year we add a one before it – meaning we’re not that far off from the teen years. How did that happen?

Once upon time, and not so long ago, I asked the question – “Will I ever watch TV again?” And then we slipped into the freeways of ever-changing routines. Playtime evolved into playgroups which eventually became preschool and in the blink of an eye, we followed the evolutionary ladder to the dawn of a new era – school – and once you walk through those doors, hold tight!!!

It’s a cliché but like the best of them – completely true. Time flies, baby.

Just yesterday I had my wife scouring every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in the area looking for her fugitive husband and child and now we willingly give the two of them up to the school system for a full seven-hour day excursion from the home. And I know that time away will only grow lengthier as the sand drains from the hour glass and the extracurricular activities pile up. There’s that famous question – if you were a superhero, what power would you have? Freeze time, baby. That’s what I would do. Or at least slow it down to a nice Southern drawl to buy myself enough time to notice and savor all those little details that sometimes fly by unnoticed – until it’s too late.

Of course that’s a fool’s errand and one of the greatest things we can do as parents is displace our hopes on the fantastic and funnel that energy into enjoying each blessed moment we are granted with our children. Believe me – I’m not preaching from the pulpit and have lots to learn about patience – but it seems like the right direction to live a life – especially one with the joys of children in it. To come to terms with the fact that we can control the passage of time if we take the moment to savor each milestone our kids meet head-on is probably the greatest discovery we can uncover. We’ve been there – staring down the big bad world – and while we know their path ahead will meander as unpredictably as ours did, there’s a lot of fun and enjoyment to be had in taking a step back and allowing them to take that big step forward under their own power. At the end of the day, it’s their life.

Like so many other days, I seem to have total recall over the important ones. I remember it was with a potent mixture of pride, happiness and melancholy that I watched my boy enter the hallowed halls of his elementary school and settle into his seat on the first day of an exciting new year in Kindergarten. That was four years ago. As Andi, Aria and I escorted Colin up the ramp that winds through the First Grade Corridor to the rear section that houses the Kindergarten and Preschool home rooms, I secretly counted the few remaining steps separating us from his blossoming independence. As we rounded the door to his classroom, Colin took a look inside, spied some familiar faces from the previous year’s preschool class and before bounding off to join his friends, he turned around and declared – “You can go now.”

Off they go…