Let’s start from the beginning.
This is one of the many thoughts that I have as I sit at the edge of the double bed in what will eventually become the nursery. The transformational process has been a very gradual one: the walls had been painted a light green color even before we knew we were pregnant. A completed changing table stands along one wall, the deep brown of the wood adding a certain refinement that will be completely contradicted by its use. Against that same wall leans a tall flat box containing the pieces of a crib. It will match the table once it is assembled, but that task will not be tackled until the very bed on which I sit is removed from the room. We’ve really just been putting it off. We’re either ignoring it, or we’re that lazy.
I am sitting in this room, as I so often do, because here the feeling of impending, unavoidable change is the thickest. This will be the hub of the baby activity. The walls, the changing table, and the sheep light switch cover all tell me so. Our DVD collection has not yet been overrun with Bob the Builder and Spongebob. The dining room does not yet feature a highchair. There is not yet a gate across the steps or a pumpkin seat in the living room. Other than a glance at my wife’s stomach, at this point it is only by stepping into this space that one may deduce that something else, someone else, is coming. This fact is more real to me when I sit in this room, on this bed, in the midst of the emerging nursery and my own anxiety.
I absolutely crave the tangible. Every time I pass this room, every time I sit here, every time I look at or feel my wife’s stomach, the desire to see something real overcomes me. I need to feel the little bumping and kicking of my unborn son against my palm. I’m trying to understand beyond some superficial level that one day very soon this room will be inhabited by a little person always in need of a fresh diaper, another bottle, a couple trips around the house in his father’s arms. And I need to understand that he will begin as that little, pooping, hungry bundle of helplessness who will depend on me for love and for his first experiences of the world.
Most of all, I need to understand that he will first appear as a baby.
There’s a reason why I’m now telling myself that we’re going to start from the beginning and not partway through. We’re not going to start when he’s already six and imitating all my worst habits or when he’s fifteen and judging all my worst flaws. I need to understand that he will not first appear with fully formed opinions on religion and politics; that he won’t root for Ohio State just to spite me or judge my career as the dumbest or most embarrassing thing that I could have done with my life. We’re not going to start arguing right out of the womb and he’s not going to squint at me through the remnants of amniotic fluid and blood and demand a second opinion from the midwife.
This sounds tremendously insecure, doesn’t it? I know it does. And yet, thoughts like that have been stuck in my mind more than anything else related to my son’s birth. I wonder what he’ll be like when he reaches those different ages; how he’ll react to the world around him. Mainly, I wonder how he’ll react to me. I’m constantly hounded by this absolute dread that I’m not going to measure up. I’m supposed to help mold the character of this tiny wrinkly wailing person, and if I don’t remember that he’ll start there, I’m going to be too scared to follow through past the first day.
I sit here on this bed and I imagine the follow-through. At times I somehow think that bargaining for my imagination’s approval will help. I conjure these scenarios in my head and try to solve them as if they were an algebra problem, a simple “if A, then B” sort of thing in an attempt at convincing myself that by the time he first colors on the walls or refuses to take a bath or whatever, it’ll just be a matter of remembering my preplanned technique.
Of course, the reality is that I don’t keep conjuring them because I think I can handle them…I think I really do it to think up new ways to torture myself in the face of an already mounting degree of worry that I’m going to suck at this.
That’s right. Apparently Daddy is a masochist at heart. Why else would I worry so much about how I’ll balance work with what he needs and how often I’ll move him around by changing churches, communities, schools? Will he be convinced that I really want the best for him? Will he believe me?
I suppose that it’s stability that I want the most for him. He’ll need a father he can count on to show him through the argument with his friend or how to maneuver through his first crush. He’ll need a father whom he knows would rather be with him than at that committee meeting. He’ll need to be told that this really is supposed to be the last move that he’ll ever have to make and that it’s like a dagger through his parents’ hearts to make him leave what he knows behind. If I can convince him of that, maybe I’ll have a shot at getting a lot of that other stuff right. And I know that I'll have his lifetime to do it, and I can grow into it right alongside him.
Daylight has faded to make way for evening. The streetlight across the parking lot lazily blinks on, casting shadows across the bedspread and the floor. The green on the walls is now a dark gray. I rise to return to the living room, and to feel the bumps against my palm again.