"She's right next to you, so don't roll over."
My wife Genevieve woke me up with that warning Tuesday morning, a sentence that wouldn't have made any sense in our house just a few weeks ago.
I inched over toward the edge of the bed and then slowly turned onto my other shoulder. And there was Adelaide, our one-month-old daughter, in the middle of the mattress, wide awake and flailing her impossibly small arms and legs, looking up in my general direction with her blue (for now) eyes.
"Oh, Addie. Oh, sweetheart." This is as articulate as I get around her.
She cooed. I swooned and swept her in toward me with my forearm, which is longer than her torso. We stayed this way for about 30 perfect seconds. Then, she scratched my face a few times, her coo turned into a cry, and it was time to change her awfully full diaper and pass her off to Gen to nurse. I got dressed for work and carried the smell-blocking diaper pail downstairs. Gen put Addie in a violet, whale-patterned onesie and matching socks, color coordinated for her doctor's appointment. Another swoon.
Visit EarthBeat, NCR's new reporting project that explores the ways Catholics and other faith groups are taking action on the climate crisis.
This is the rhythm of our first weeks of parenthood. The transcendent, the mundane, and the gross come and go, and intermingle without a predictable pattern. Whole days fill up this way. Many evenings, we feel like we did nothing all day long, but we're also unable to pick out even a moment of non-sleeping downtime. I had been afraid I would miss going out to dinner or taking a day trip to the beach on a whim, but there hasn't been time to even think about those things.
The suddenness of the rhythmic shift from July 22 to Addie's birthday on July 23 felt like something out of avant-garde jazz. It was abrupt and absolute. Nobody came into the hospital room after she was born and said, "Look, this has been an enormous development for the two of you. Why don't you go and take a weekend retreat to process? We'll take care of the baby until you get back." Nope. Adelaide arrived, we got a couple days' worth of help from the nurses, and then we just went home. No special certification needed. The six hours of behind-the-wheel driver's ed I took when I was 15 was a lot more formal training than I got for, you know, keeping a human person alive and thriving.
There's a TEDx Talk from a few years ago by a polyglot named Benny Lewis, who's written a book called Fluent In Three Months. His thesis is that the only way to learn how to communicate in a new language is to speak it. Instead of studying a text book, he says, have as many conversations as you can with native speakers. Get over your insecurity and talk to people. Or, as the classic Nike slogan says, Just Do It. Gen and I don't have a choice. We're in way, way over our heads, and we have to just do it.
The analogy isn't perfect, though. For instance, some recent Nike commercials are montages of athletes training really hard. They are exemplars of the Just Do It Way: self-discipline leads to personal achievement.
A better video representation of my wife and me as parents would be us hobbling toward a finish line on an oval track, carrying Addie clumsily, who's dressed in an outfit with the snaps fastened, but mismatched. Her diaper is sliding down her thighs a little. But then, emerging from the cheering crowd to help us along are Gen's mom and sisters, who she texts daily with questions like, "Is this rash on her face normal?" Then, my parents arrive, carrying groceries and Pampers, and they're joined by friends with bags of gently used baby clothes. Our neighbors show up with the "IT'S A GIRL!" balloon and other items they used to decorate our front lawn. There are 20 people surrounding us on the track now. Inspired, and leaning on two pediatricians' shoulders, we push through to the finish line. The crowd roars, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band appear and launch into "Born to Run," and the JumboTron flashes the message, "It takes a village to raise a child!"
Two friends who are relatively recent parents themselves offer to drive us home. "We'll just hang out with Addie in the living room while you two get some sleep," they say. We don't want to inconvenience them, but that sounds too good to pass up. They murmur lovingly to her while we drag ourselves upstairs. We sleep very, very well.