Call me Han, baby. I’m flying solo.
The wife is on sabbatical, having ventured back home to take care of some things, namely her job but also getting a start on some of the many several projects we’d left apparently to the last minute, cleaning, organizing, perhaps painting. So I’m here alone, just me and the spud.
I went in this morning and found we had a nurse today we like a lot. Then at rounds, they decided they could wean his hydrocortisone a little. So far so good. I sat down next to the bed and the nurse asked me expectantly if I wanted to hold him at noon after his hands-on, which I hadn’t been anticipating. We usually don’t hold in the early afternoon. Typically we do late afternoon, sometimes evening, but I felt like I was being told what to do, how to be a father. Did I look like I needed the guidance? Lost in mommy land? In any case I held my ground and said no, I’ll probably leave after the noon hands-on and try to hold him after the four o’clock hands-on period instead.
See, I can do this.
When it was time for his noon hands-on, the nurse asked if I wanted to change the diaper. I said of course. We usually do all of the hands-on tasks, if possible, which since we’ve had this nurse before I figured would go without saying. But by the time I had walked to the other side of the isolette and opened the ports, the diaper and wipes were already fetched for me and waiting on my side of the baby, the temperature was taken and the blood pressure cuff was on and pressurizing. All I did that hands-on was the diaper. The nurse changed his pulse-ox, even grabbed the purified water and swab and did a quick swipe for oral care, which usually takes me at least four or five minutes because Alex likes this part the best. And like that, the hands-on was over. I said I would probably do another oral care, actually. The nurse said um, okay, but you don’t want to do too many oral cares outside of hands-on because you don’t want them to develop an aversion to it.
I left for the afternoon to go write. My writing friend in Florida texted to see how things were and was glad to hear I was getting some work done on the novel. We offered to trade projects and she asked what I would like her to be looking for, what I might need help with. I said I wanted to her to point out stopping points for me, places where she was inclined for whatever reason to put the thing down and stop reading. I thought this was a relatively smart response, given that I had no idea what I wanted her to look for, but she said that every reader brings their own expectations, their own interests, so my requested feedback was not specific enough to make sense. How could she know what might give other people pause?
It was a fair point. I may as well have asked her to tell me if it’s any good. I had been making an assumption, one writer to another, that we had the same definition of quality, or interest, or offense. I replied that honestly I didn’t care what would make other people lose interest, I just wanted to know where she would stop reading. I can’t control what anyone else thinks, and I’m reminded of this constantly. A lot of my writer friends from grad school are publishing, and publishing frequently. I’ll go through and read these stories, some of which I remember workshopping, and often I’ll get to the end and think, huh. I still don’t think it’s ready yet. I probably wouldn’t have submitted it in this form, and if I were an editor I wouldn’t have accepted it. Which just goes to show how individualized this profession is. My opinion means squat. Just because I’m a writer, too, doesn’t mean I know how you should operate. I can’t tell you what’s right for you, but if you ask, I’ll do my best to help. Although I probably wouldn’t be much help at all if you’re looking to publish…
I went back to the hospital at 3:30 sharp (his noon hands-on had actually started at 11:30, which is pretty common). The nurse was busy at another bed. I waited until 4:00, 4:05, 4:08, finally I stood up and looked across the room and said I was going to start the hands-on myself, if that was okay. It was. So I popped the top, took his temperature, got a blood pressure, changed his diaper, measured his belly, and got out the swabs and water for his oral care. By the time the nurse came over, I was ready to change his pulse-ox and said I was going to put it on his foot, because I was about to swaddle and hold him and there’s less cord to deal with if it’s on his foot than his arm.
He looked over the baby, looked up at me, eyebrows raised, critiquing my work, and said sure, that sounds good.
After I changed his pulse-ox sensor, I came around to the other side of the bed, pulled a receiving blanket from the drawer, swaddled Alex up nice and snug with the cords collected and hanging out the bottom, except his feeding tube which I left out the top, which the nurse had disconnected for me without me noticing to make it easier on me. He said the swaddle looked good and asked if there was anything else I needed, and I said sure, if you could grab his breathing tubes for me, to guide them while I sat down, that would be great.
I sat and held him for almost two hours. He fell asleep quickly. The pod was very quiet. My nurse took a brief break, leaving just the other nurse and two babies with me in the room. No music, no iPad playing Sesame Street, no tinny repeating lullabies, no extra noise at all. My chair was the good chair, the one that rocks a little without making an aggravating squeak, and I sat and I rocked as regularly as possible and watched Alex’s little sleeping face and studied his expression for signs of a dream and felt his bowels move but nothing else. He’s so small it’s ridiculous to try and use two arms to hold him, so I tend to cradle his head in one hand and hold him like a running back holding a football. But even with only one arm the heat builds up and I have to switch, for my comfort and for his better health, putting his head in the crook of my opposite elbow and holding the rest of the swaddle in my opposite hand. After maybe the third transition between arms he started to wake up, so I moved him back football-style except I held him out perpendicular instead of parallel to me and looked him face-to-face, mirror style.
Look, I’m no good at small talk. I can’t hold a one-sided conversation. My mind dries up like a raisin. Hell, let’s be honest, I can barely keep it going with two people, but I’m looking down the barrel of a near future when I’ll be spending great swaths of time at home alone with a nonverbal human companion, and I think he’ll require more of me than the pets do in terms of communicative expression. But just knowing I have to figure out how to do it doesn’t make it any easier to figure out. I thought about my wife, wondered what she would do, she can usually fill a silence with the best of them. And she’s told me what she does, I remembered. She sings to him.
But what to sing.
There are a lot of factors to consider, here, before making a decision all willy-nilly, and I’m not just talking about considering the obvious like whether I know enough of the words to make a passable attempt at a rendition or that there are other people within earshot and so I can’t select something like Wrecking Ball without having to deal with the potential repercussion of some severe side-eye shade. More importantly, this is one of the few firsts I’m getting to have a say in how it goes. So much of this experience, Gretchen will tell you too, has been out of our control. We probably didn’t get to hear his voice’s first expression. They pulled out his tube and we waited all excited and they said his throat was probably sore and he’d start testing it out as time went on, and so the next day when we got there he had done that and we heard him cry for the first time, except it wasn’t for the first time, probably, he’d done that sometime in the night, alone in his bin.
What will be the first movie trilogy I expose him to. What is the first record I’ll play for him as I hold him and let him watch it spin and scratch and somehow create this harmonic, palpable noise. What will be his first attended sporting event. These things matter. His first tattoo. You make a mistake here, you might regret it forever. Just look at Anakin and what’s-his-face. He kind of blanked, started singing the Kit Kat bar jingle, and they wound up on non-speaking terms for like three movies.
In the end, I didn’t make the decision. I just opened my mouth and started singing and out came “Is this the real life?/ Is this just fantasy?/ Caught in a landslide/ No escape from reality…”
He stared at me as I sang, forgave me after I got hung up after the first two verses and had to skip to the climax, politely waited until I finished before looking away again and closing his eyes.
What animal will he see first, I can’t wait to know. It still seems so far away. His entire life can be mapped to three rooms and the two hallways that connect them. His current room has a window. Gretchen has tried to explain to him a tree, but we’re not sure it got through.
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