You’re Due Tomorrow

Dear son,

It’s January 29, 2017.

You’re due tomorrow. You may not come for another week a so, but you’re scheduled to arrive tomorrow.

Your mom is nervous. She’s nervous about a lot – caring for you, breastfeeding you. She’s nervous about our finances during her maternity leave. We’ve saved, but have we saved enough? She’s nervous about your day care once she goes back to work.

But right now, the thing she’s most nervous about, I think, is the labor. What is the pain going to be like? She wants to give birth naturally, but will she need drugs? Will there be complications? There’s a lot on her mind.

***

I’m writing this on our living room couch in our Chicago condo. Jessica Jones is sprawled out on a blanket next to me, and your mom is in her office working.

Your mom and I have been together a few months past five years now, and this is somewhat of a cliche, but it’s hard to remember my life before her.

***

I proposed to your mom in the dining room of our first apartment together on Campbell Avenue. If we’re still in Chicago when you’re old enough to walk and understand, we’ll probably take you by our old neighborhood sometime and show you where mommy and daddy spent their first few years together.

Can I confess something about my proposal? I didn’t really propose. Well, I did, but I didn’t actually say anything. I insisted she turn her back as I went into my office to get her “birthday present” (Her birthdays are a big deal to her, so I couldn’t think of a more special day to pop the question), and then I came back with the ring, got down on one knee, and told her to turn around.

And I remained silent, just holding up the ring in its case. I was silent because even then, even as I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, I couldn’t articulate the reasons why, me, someone who fancies himself a writer every now and then.

Luckily, no words were needed. She burst out in happy tears, and that was all the ‘yes’ I needed, but still, I stood up, embraced her and asked, “That’s a ‘yes’, right?”

***

A couple of weeks later, I was at a party and someone congratulated me on our engagement. She had seen the news on social media. I was a touch tipsy, so my words and thoughts were flowing more fluidly than usual, and it just came out, the reason I wanted to spend the rest of my life with your mom:

“I never feel more like myself than when I’m with her.”

That may seem simple, son, but it’s a privilege I never felt like I had in my prior relationships – to completely be myself. That’s not to say the women before your mom did anything to intentionally to make me feel that way, but the chemistry between two people, the reason people click, is a funny thing that all the science in the world still hasn’t figured out, and for whatever reason, thank God, your mom and I did.

Sometimes, I’m not sure I meet her equally. Sometimes, I’m not sure she feels able to fully be herself around me all the time. But it’s something I’m continually aware of and work on. That’s one of the most important things you can do in a relationship: Just keep trying to become better for the other person.

***

You’re due tomorrow. (Have I mentioned that?)

I have an idea of what it’s going to be like to be your dad, but I know enough to know, right now, it’s still really just an idea, and I won’t really feel the full weight of it until the first time I see your head on your mom’s chest, the first time I hold you in my arms. And like with your mom, there will come a time when I can’t remember my life before you.

I am excited and a little impatient for that time to come. I’m typing this, glancing over at your mom’s back every few moments, almost trying to will her to go into labor. The last couple of nights in bed, whenever she has shifted enough to stir me even just slightly awake, my first thought was to hope labor was starting, and you were on your way.

I know, I know. It’s selfish. You’ll come when you’re ready, and your mom wants a couple of days of rest at home (her maternity leave begins tomorrow) to prepare.

Patience is a virtue, and I hope I teach you that well.

Now hurry up and get here, son.

 

 

 

On Protests and Challenging Beliefs

Dear son,

The unique moment in time you were born was one of civil and social unrest in the United States.

I’m not going to bore you here (too much) with the particulars. By the time you read this, sometime in your early teen years, I imagine, I have no doubt you’ve heard and read plenty about the late-2010s. I’m sure your mom and I have gone on and on about it. As I write this in late January of 2017, it’s my hope that by now when your mom and I do bring it up, it elicits merely an eye roll out of you. I hope you can’t imagine what the big deal was and why the future – your future – seemed so scary then, when really, it turned out to be just a rough couple of years before the country made a much-needed course correction.

That’s my hope.

This past weekend was a presidential inauguration more sparsely attended than any in recent memory, followed by a day of protests, not just in the U.S. but throughout the entire world, against the man sworn into the presidency. There were many reasons to protest this man, but the main purpose of these this weekend was to point out his constant denigrating comments about women, and the multiple accusations of sexual assault against women, before and during his candidacy. The protests were to speak against his promises to reverse women’s rights that have been established for over 40 years.

About women and treating them with the respect they deserve: That is an important topic in and of itself, one I’m sure we’ve had many talks about already, and one I’ll write more about in a later entry.

(This is where I like to imagine you rolling your eyes at me as you read this, because yes, we’ve had these talks, and you know that you know how to behave properly and I should just chill out about it, and dad, really, no one uses the phrase ‘chill out’ anymore.)

Anyway.

As of this writing, those protests were the largest of its kind in American history. They were necessary and important. But here’s a fact of life that comes with every such protest: there are going to those who dismiss them and the people taking part in them. There will be those who find their participants unreasonable, or silly, whiners or sore losers.

Son, I used to be one of these people.

In the early 2000s, another unpopular president started an unpopular war with another country. In these years, I was on my way to becoming liberal, but still, I had a more or less conservative mindset. I was “pro-life” (you know why I put that term in quotation marks, don’t you?) I watched Fox News, and particularly, enjoyed Bill O’Reilly. I wasn’t solidly in favor of the war, but I didn’t see why people were so upset by it. There were protests.

I was acting in a touring children’s theater at the time. One of my fellow actors was a guy named Mike, very much a liberal. We were talking about the war and these protests one day, in a van on our way to some town in Kentucky or Tennessee, and I dismissed the protests and their participants with some glib comments. “Sure, go ahead and protest if it makes you feel like you’re doing something, but what are you really accomplishing?”

Mike gave me sort of a withering look, almost one of pity. Here’s what the look said: “You don’t get it. I hope you do someday.”

The conversation didn’t stop there. He gently chipped away at why I felt that way. We had a lot of conversations like that over the next few months working together. I would have gotten there eventually, I think, but our conversations helped bring me around to a more liberal – more open – frame of mind a lot faster.

Mike and I largely fell out of contact when I moved to Chicago, but I value the friendship we had for those couple of years a great deal. We are still connected on social media. He posted some words this past weekend recounting similar conversations he’s had with others with different viewpoints over the years, and the importance in having those civil conversations. I was just one of a number of people he helped nudge to a different way of thinking.

Three things I’d like you to understand:

  1. Peaceful protests are an essential part of society. They are tools for minorities and disenfranchised voices to be heard. Every important movement our country’s last 60 plus years have been accompanied by them – the civil rights movements of the 1960s, women’s rights, LGTBQ rights. They are necessary.
  2. When protests happen and you, at first, can’t understand why, it costs you absolutely nothing to hold your tongue, open your ears, and listen to what people have to say. Ridicule and mockery only reveal your ignorance, at best, and at worst, hatred you hold in your heart. The only good that can come from speaking prematurely against something you don’t understand is having someone like Mike who will have the patience to challenge you, nudge you in the right direction, and not dismiss you as a lost cause.
  3. When you encounter someone like the me I was in my early-20s, someone who mocks those who feel the need to speak out against what they perceive as injustice, it is not your responsibility to change how they think. But if you decide to try, don’t bludgeon the person with all the reasons they are wrong. (I have to admit, I struggle with this.) Instead, ask questions. Make small observations. Slowly chip away at their thinking process. Also, know that while not impossible, this is much more difficult to do online, where rules of decorum and civility all too often go out the window quickly.

***

It is often observed that people are often liberal in the youth and get more conservative as they get older. I consider myself as liberal as liberal can be, but there may come a time when I begin shifting (back) to a more conservative mindset. If and when that happens, come at me. Challenge me. Chip away at me. And when you think I can’t get anymore frustrated, show me this letter.

It will piss me off, but I will love you for it.

 

 

The Unplanned

Dear son,

A few days before you were born, your mom and I had a stressful morning.

I awoke that Thursday to the sound of freezing rain falling outside our Chicago condo. Normally, I love the sound of rain, even that of the freezing kind, especially when I’m lying in bed. That morning, though, I had to be out in Mokena for work, an hour outside the city, at 10am, and before that, I had to stop by my office to pick up some equipment. This was my early days as a real estate broker, and my work that day was to photograph a house with a camera that would build a 3-D model potential buyers could virtually walk-through online. Adults are very busy, and if we can do something from the comfort of our computer or phone instead of doing it in person, we’ll do whatever is necessary.

But before that photo shoot, your mom and I had an 8am appointment with our new family doctor, your doctor, our first appointment, a “meet and greet”.

This appointment had been shoehorned into our day; it was supposed to have been the Saturday before, but when we arrived at the doctor’s office that morning, we were told the doctor had cancelled earlier in the week, and because of a communication breakdown, your mom was never called and informed of this. This was to be your doctor, the doctor we would trust any time you were sick, or we thought you were sick, in the first years of your life, and that his office had dropped the ball first thing did not give us confidence.

An 8am appointment on a weekday wasn’t convenient. As it was, I was probably going to have to leave the appointment a little early to make it to Mokena on time, even if the doctor was on time himself, something we didn’t have faith in, because doctors run late, it’s a fact of life, and you’re just supposed to accept it, and this doctor didn’t even show up to the first appointment.

Now with the freezing rain, I felt pressure to leave the appointment even earlier.

Sure enough, the doctor was 20 minutes late to the appointment, with no explanation or barely an acknowledgement from his staff. We were just about to walk out when he arrived, just a few minutes after I repeated a question to your mom I had asked on Saturday – Was it too late to look for another doctor? Her answer was yes; of the few the midwife team recommended, he was the only one accepting new babies. And, according to Yelp!, the doctor really was good, scheduling issues aside. Yelp! then was just a website where people could go and rate businesses and service providers, such as doctors. This was before it also became a tool to rate individual people for every single interaction we have with each other throughout the day, and oh God, I hope that really isn’t a thing when you’re reading this, just the premise of a really good episode of Black Mirror, which maybe I have made you watch by now.

Anyway.

When the doctor finally showed up, he said all the things he was supposed to say. He apologized for being late, he had been doing rounds across the street. He answered the questions we had, and a couple we hadn’t thought to ask.

I left and your mom stayed for about another five minutes. When we talked later that night, we decided we were satisfied with staying with this doctor, at least through your birth.

***

I hope I manage to hide this from you most of the time, but a lot of things give anxiety. Near the top of that list of things are these:

  1. Driving in inclement weather.
  2. Being late.

As I drove away from the doctor’s office, I looked at how slow the traffic was moving, and I knew I was going to be at least a half-hour late for my 10am appointment. I called the broker listing the house I was photographing to let her know I’d be late, and all things considered with the weather, she was more than understanding. Most people are understanding when you communicate openly and honestly.

So now I didn’t feel so bad about being late. But then there was the driving. The roads weren’t bad driving out of the city, but about a half hour out, along I-80, I hit a stretch of road that was all but a solid sheet of ice. I slowed down to 20mph while the cars passing me in the left lanes were going at least 20 more than that.

There came this point when I felt the tires weren’t connecting with the asphalt at all, just ice, and I felt the car wanting to drift. Coming up in my driver’s side mirror was a semi-truck in next lane.

I said one curse word over and over again, in quick succession. In about three seconds, I imagined these events unfolding: I would drift into the left lane, and the semi-truck, unable to stop on the ice, when plow into me, tear that puny Hyundai Elantra apart, killing me in the process. Your mom would get the news at work later. In the hours and days that followed, she would work the timeline of events through her mind, remember the two text messages she had sent me a few minutes before, telling me her department at work had given us a very generous gift card on top of all the gifts they had given us at the baby shower the night before, and she would wonder if those texts were what had distracted me and caused the wreck. Then I imagined her devastated and grief-stricken, giving birth to you a few days later without me there, overwhelmed at the idea of raising a child on her own. I imagined you growing up without me getting to be there to see it.

All of that, in three seconds.

But then the car corrected itself, and the semi passed. A mile later, the ice gave way to more manageable slush. I eventually made it to my appointment, an hour late, but the residents were more than understanding. The house took almost four hours to shoot. Because of that and my lateness, I had to cancel an appointment I had later in the evening with a massage client. The client, too, was forgiving.

The work day turned out fine.

***

I called your mom after I dropped the equipment off back at the office. She had plans for dinner with friends after she left work, and I just wanted to say hello, but while I had her on the phone, I realized I had time to pick her and drive her to dinner. The restaurant was just a five minute walk from her work place, but getting to see her for just a few minutes would do my soul good. But then it turned out she had an hour to kill before her friends arrived, so we went to the restaurant early, and we had a bowl of soup and a Guinness (well, I drank the Guinness, your mom drank ginger ale) and discussed the doctor’s appointment and told each other about our days before I went home to let Jessica Jones out.

That unplanned hour, getting to share your mom’s company for a little bit, was the highlight of my day. The best moments in life are almost always the unplanned ones.

At home, I made a proper dinner, then I put together your stroller, drank a little whiskey, and watched Star Trek. Well, I tried to put your stroller together. Truth be told (and you are probably well aware of this by now), your mom is much better at those kind of things. So I got the stroller started, and she helped when she got home.

***

There’s a temptation to take scary moments like when I thought I was going to drift into the semi’s path and try to spin them into a life-changing moment, some great lesson about not sweating the small stuff and embracing what’s important in life. The truth is, most people have the tendency to sweat the small stuff a lot, but moments come along every once in a while to remind you how precious life is, how special the little, unplanned moments are, and you’re grateful for the reminder, but then life wears away at you until you forget, and you need to be reminded again. A repeating cycle, a lesson learned over and over.

And that’s okay. It’s a lesson I’ll teach you as you grow up, but I’m pretty sure you will teach it to me much, much more.

 

 

The Night We Found Out You Were Coming

Dear son,

I’m going to tell you a story.

One day, I’ll tell you the stories about how your mom and I met, and how a singer named John Cougar Mellencamp helped me get a second date with her. I’ll tell you about her and my years together before you. I’ll even eventually tell you about the afternoon you came to be conceived. That last one might embarrass you, because who likes to hear about their parents getting it on? But you’ve probably been wondering all these years why Uncle Henri and Aunt Nicole insist on calling you ‘Baby Vegas’, and well, there’s a story there. Also, there’s a cool tangential story about a rejection e-mail I received earlier that day, and how, if not for that rejection, you might not be here.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, I want to tell you the story of the night your mom and found out you were going to become part of our lives.

The news you were coming was a late birthday present for me. My birthday almost always coincides with Memorial Day weekend. That Saturday, your Uncles John and Jason came to visit Chicago, and we ran the Soldier Field 10 Mile race together. Recreational races are this thing that people do to motivate themselves and stay fit and have a sense of community. To tell you the truth, sometimes, I feel a little silly doing these races when there are other goals and problems I could be tackling, but well, crossing the finish line at the end of one of these races gives you a sense of accomplishment and euphoria like nothing else, especially when you do with someone you love. I hope by the time you’re reading this, we’ve done one of these races already.

Again, I’m getting ahead of myself. (I would say get used to this, but perhaps you already are.)

On Sunday that weekend (my birthday), John and Jason left, your mom came back from a visit to your grandmother’s, and she surprised me with a canoe trip on the Chicago river. We went to see a movie that evening (“Captain America: Civil War”) then went karaoke with some friends (Yes, I represented the great Mellencamp once again. It’s sort of a thing with your mom and I, a part of our story.)

Monday was an unremarkable day. I worked. Your mom stayed home and cleaned the apartment, which I’m sure you’ve learned by now is her own form of relaxing.

On Tuesday, your mom texted me near the end of her work day, telling me there was something she needed to do that night, and she couldn’t wait for me to get home. I was teaching a class that evening. I told her to do what she needed to do, but to not tell me anything until I got home.

I probably tell you to do your best in everything you do, because that’s what dads are supposed to tell their children, but I’m going to admit: I totally phoned that class in that night.

When I walked in the front door later, she was sitting in the arm chair facing the door. I knew just from the look on her face. She showed me the pregnancy test.

We held each other. We laughed. We cried. We admitted we were scared out of our minds. We wanted you. But you came so early after we started trying, we weren’t quite prepared to actually start this journey. But then, no one is ever fully prepared for the journey of being a parent.

I’m writing this on January 5, 2017, a few weeks, or maybe just a few days, before you’re here, depending on when you’re ready to join us. It’s been nine months since that night. It feels like yesterday, and feels like forever ago, like we’ve been preparing for you for years, both at the same time. I think both are true.

The year 2015 was a personal struggle for me, and I’m sure I’ll bore you with all that one day. I was well underway to putting that behind me by the time we found out you were coming, but the news gave your old man a swift kick in the pants, new motivation to put that struggle behind me. This is just one way you’ve changed me, and you’re not even here yet.

But: Our small condo is filling up with more and more of your things everyday: The crib, the changing table, the cradle, the bouncer, the clothes, the carseat. And you’ll be here soon enough.

We can’t wait.