This is the last post in our second simplicity series, and I couldn't think of a better way to end it. In this lovely essay, my friend and colleague Aaron Housholder, a professor of creative writing at Taylor, writes about parenthood. I wish more men wrote about parenthood this way -- with honesty, humor, and so much heart.
We stood around Scottie’s clear-sided plastic bassinet and chatted with the nurses as we changed his clothes to take him home. He had spent his first sixteen days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit because he was a preemie and didn’t have all of his breathing skills figured out. I volunteered to change his diaper; the nurses had done most of the diaper work thus far and I needed some practice. And of course, after I removed the old diaper but before I installed the new one, and with everyone watching, Scottie sneezed and while doing so shot out a neon green poop bullet that splatted against the end of his bassinet. Hilarity ensued.
We laughed because children are fundamentally gross and also because poop is pretty funny. There was also the need for such a release (ha!) – this was the culminating moment for us of sixteen days of leaving our boy at the hospital, and a celebratory moment for the nurses because one of their babies got to go home (which isn’t always the case in the NICU). The mood was festive as we zipped up the boy’s new fuzzy sleeper and strapped him in his carrier and took him outside.
We took this picture in that blissful moment of anchoring our baby boy in the van for the first time:
We took this shot and a corresponding one with Mommy. I love that we took these pictures because we now have those moments preserved and because, really, this is what you’re supposed to do on such occasions. It’s a moment you want to cherish.
I wish I had a picture of my face about ten seconds later, the moment when I sat in the driver’s seat and started the van. With the turn of the key my festive spirit vanished and I thought of that green poop bullet and the people standing there who helped us clean it up and how they didn’t get in the van with us. We were two weeks into being parents, but we really hadn’t been parents yet, and now it was just the three of us in the van, two parents and a baby, our suddenly solitary family. My thoughts took the timely and thematic form of “Oh shit.”
I backed out of the space while trying to stifle the idea that I’d never carried such precious cargo. I’d never driven with the knowledge that an accident would be so costly. I’d never been a dad before. And here I was being a dad and driving this car and what if someone hits us and did I install the car seat right and oh shit this chaotic world just got real.
I’m a laid-back sort of person. I handle things with grace for the most part. On the occasions when I’m invited to preach, I preach about stillness and our freedom to find rest in God’s grace. But I squeezed the steering wheel all the way home that day like I was holding the car together with my gloved hands, or like the wheel would attack my son if I didn’t wring its neck. It’s jarring to go from festive to frantic in such a short space, from laughing about poop like a middle-schooler to suddenly being someone’s father.
I found my way out of the labyrinthine parking lot, eased down the street, and then just barely negotiated a lovely spot where the two lanes of urban traffic merged into one and then spread into four as we joined the interstate. I sat impatiently through some road construction, feeling exposed, and managed not to scream at the freaking stupid people who kept changing lanes in front of us even though both lanes were obviously jammed. I opted to exit way before our normal exit and to take the back roads because if one more semi nearly rear-ended us in the stop-and-go I was gonna pop a blood vessel. Scottie slept through the whole ride home, of course. I wasn’t sure I’d ever sleep again.
But we made it. We picked up some Arby’s on the way. I remember this because we got home and carried Scottie’s car seat into the house and set it on the living room floor with him still in it and then ate lunch and watched him sleep and delayed as long as possible the moment when we’d unstrap him and suddenly become real-life hands-on parents. I’m typing this right now about five feet from the place on the floor where his car seat sat; I remember the angle of the seat, the tilt of his head, the way the light filtered into the room through the bay window, the taste and smell of the beef-and-cheddar sandwich I ate. And the feel of him, the floppy limbs, the soft-solid ribs in my hands as I lifted him out and passed him to Mommy, his closed eyes and sweet pursing lips as he slept through all of Daddy’s drama.
I’ve been thinking here recently of those initial moments of parenthood because I just took Scottie with me on a business trip to London. Here’s another picture, taken just two weeks ago:
My boy and I are sitting on the plane that would carry us to London Heathrow. Scottie turned ten on this trip. It was his first trip to London, and thus my first as a child-toting dad. We walked toward this plane while I tried to block the encroaching thoughts about all of the dangers of travel that I don’t usually think about, all the bad people out there, all the menacing buzz of the London I love so much, all the things that might go wrong. What if something happens to my boy? What if I lose him? Can I once again take care of this most precious cargo?
What I like about this selfie is that I’m already feeling all these things, but from the look of the picture, you can’t tell. In the van picture above, I’m not aware yet that there’s anything to feel. Maybe that’s progress. I now know the panicky moments will come, but I can still enjoy the moment. That’s a real smile in the airplane picture. It was both a festive and a nervous moment.
The trip to London went well, I’m happy to report, as did that first day at home with baby Scottie. On both occasions the initial frenzied panic disappeared in the joys and challenges of the immediate. We’ve had a great time raising this sweet boy, even as he and I had a great time in London.
I get the sense that these moments of frantic (though stifled) anxiety will keep coming as long as I keep being a dad. It’s possible that I’ll keep growing, keep getting cooler; maybe I’ll evolve into one of those parents who appears to take everything in stride and never seems overwhelmed. Anything’s possible.
In the meantime, I’ll admit that every time Scottie and I walked down a crowded London street last week, I took a firm hold of his hand, and I didn’t care if he liked it or not. No sense taking any chances.