My wife and I had agreed that we didn’t want to know the sex of our baby. Sure, we had discussed the somewhat finite possibilities: My wife said she thought it might be easier to raise a boy in this bizarre world. Knowing a little about that one myself I wasn’t quite so sure. But I remember thinking that I didn’t care either way, that I would love a girl and boy the same.
So when my wife Melanie called me from a payphone to tell me she had just come from the doctors and that she knew, well, I was surprised to find that I felt a little faint. I realized that in an instant, in the mention of one word, everything would be different. That a little generic baby face, along with a whole gender specific slew of problems and worries (and colours), were hovering before me, and that bassketball or ballet class was the least of it. I literally felt like I was going to pass out, and while I used to feel that way all the time, it’s been a few years and I wasn’t used to it anymore.
"It's a BOY!", she said.
And that’s when I knew that the whole thing had been a lie; I had always wanted a boy. Secretly and desperately. At the risk of losing my ACLU card, I wanted a boy to go to baseball games with, discuss the finer points of boy-type things, and most importantly, hang out with. Because after living my whole life with women: various girlfriends, wives, and not to mention my mother, I wasn’t sure that I’d be any help to a girl - I sure as hell hadn’t been much of a help to any of them. At least with a boy I could draw upon my own experiences, (or lack thereof), think about what I would have done, and then caution my son to do the opposite. Little did I know how lost I was gonna feel anyway, and that my advice on how to hit the curveball was going to be of little help to either of us those first few precious hours.
Melanie has a terrible delivery. We don’t see the baby for over twelve hours after he’s born. Late at night they wheel her into her own room. We sit around and wait expectantly. Then they wheel Jack in – tears of joy, hugs, cries, salutations. We smile at the nurse. The nurse smiles back serenely, and says ‘See you in the morning!’. Jack looks dazed. We pick him up. We smile at each other. A warm happy feeling takes over the room. ‘So this is what being a parent is all about’. I am pulled from my reverie by an oddly grating sound. A whimpering, which segues shortly into a full-on cry. Warm happy feeling exits. Uneasiness sets in. I look at Melanie because I know that all her genetically engineered mothering skills are going to kick in any time now. Unfortunately, she is looking at me with the same dumb, hopeful smile that says ‘Surely you know how to handle this. Now panic has truly taken over: we are lost, we are not ready, there has been some sort of a mistake. Recriminations follow -’this is your fault, do something, make it stop. And it went like that for about the first five months.»
Of course this is a time of hyper sensitivity. My wife was attempting to breast feed and having trouble at first. While one might think this would be a fairly easy proposition - stick kid on tit, watch him go! - it turns out to be anything but. Jack wouldn’t eat, Jack wouldn’t sleep; he basically just screamed a lot. Being a parent in those first couple of months is a lot like being in an abusive relationship. They treat you bad, you assume it’s your fault, you must be doing something wrong. They scream at you, piss on you, puke on you, and you love them all the more for it. Meanwhile, since they can’t yell at the child, Mommy and Daddy yell at each other. Add in sleep depravation, frayed nerves, confusion, and barely hidden contempt, and you’ve got a fairly volatile mix. I remember telling my wife one morning after an especially bad few nights of no sleep to just pack her shit and get the fuck out. Looking back I can’t really remember why; in fact, I don’t think I knew then. I was just so freaked out.
I do believe that somewhere along the line someone installed a checks and balances system into the parenting relationship. From the moment Jack was born, Melanie would flip out over the slightest thing to do with Jack. Do you think he’s too, hot, cold, feverish, hungry, thirsty, overdressed, underdressed, big, small, slow, other..?’ To which my response would always be the old father's standby, passed down through the ages: He's fine.
There was, however, one notable exception: One morning, shortly after his circumcision, I went to change his diaper and was shocked to discover blood on his penis. Now up till this point, I had told Melanie to just calm down when she wanted to take Jack to the doctor every five seconds. But this was different; this was his penis! Get the doctor on the phone now…get her down here…my son’s penis is in danger, we must protect the proud Cushman line!’.
I am proud to say that Melanie, myself, Jack, and, perhaps most importantly, Jack’s penis have all made it through ten months of non-stop excitement. So things are working out just fine.