Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Journey into the mind of an expectant father

How’s the kid? Are you getting enough sleep? How many diapers are you changing a day? In a few short months I’ll have the answers to all of these questions. For now it’s waiting, planning, and mentally preparing myself for the unknown.

Can I admit something to you? Being an expectant father is overwhelming. At any given moment I could be researching baby monitors, plastering decals on the walls of the nursery, or scaring myself with YouTube videos on infant care (whatever you do, don’t Google “meconium”). There is an endless amount of information and research to be done. Reassuringly, Jenna seems to already know most of this. For example, I just found out that the baby has an umbilical cord stump that hardens and falls off after birth. “Of course”, says Jenna, “they make special diapers for that but the elastic is not as strong”. Her knowledge and motherly instincts are awe-inspiring. When the baby is born, I fully expect Jenna will race into a phone booth and emerge with a giant red “S” and flowing cape: Supermom.

I’m trying to think back to other greatly anticipated but equally uncertain life experiences. For example, embarking on my journey to Bates College almost 16 years ago. It was a new location, new responsibilities, and lots of new people. I can remember arriving early, before classes started, for a weekend outing trip. There was a meet and greet mixer, and then I spent a long sleepless night in my unfurnished but soon-to-be-home dorm room. I met our small group the next morning, piled into a van, and headed out for a weekend in the mountains. On that first morning I was sleep deprived, nervous, and feeling pressure to make friends. I had a great time and made strong friendships that would last all 4 years of college.

Despite all the research, all the classes, all the hospital tours and talks with mom, there’s no way to tell what this will be like. All expectant parents are familiar with a common refrain: “Every baby is different”. Yours might cry excessively, might never sleep, or might become a germ magnet. No amount of research makes you feel prepared. There’s no dipping your toe in the water and slowly lowering yourself in while making pained “oohs” and “aahs”. Instead, you’ll need to climb onto the diving board, book it to the edge, and perform a flawless triple gainer into the deep end. I worry there may be a sickening slap as I bellyflop on my first attempt.

Right now it feels like I’m at the front of the line for the world’s most death-defying rollercoaster. The previous group of riders just pulled back into the station and I’m trying to read their faces. Some are high-fiving, laughing, and pumping their fists. Others look frazzled, queasy, and exhausted. The turnstiles swing open and I’m stepping into the car. The attendant comes down the line and buckles me in. There’s no turning back now. Suddenly there is a buzzer, a small jerk, and we’re moving forward. Slowly, but surely, we begin our climb up the metallic rails: click, click, click. As we climb higher I’m stunned at the unexpected beauty of the surrounding landscape. I’m enjoying the cool breeze and bright sun on my face. Jenna is sitting next to me and grips my hand tightly. We’re in this together. Now we’re at the top and the track gets much steeper from here. But that’s when the real fun begins, or so I’ve heard.

Soon I’ll be hurtling down the track and holding on tight. But right now I’m waiting. Right now it’s click, click, click. I’ve heard a wonderful adage about children: the days are long but the years are short. Despite the stress and nerves I want to savor this moment of expectation. I think I’m ready for this adventure.

Hopefully one or two bellyflops can be excused.