II. Cinco de Mayo Sopresa

May 5, 2016

The hotel lobby doors part in sync with my closing footsteps. An air-conditioned breeze hits my face and the sterility of the hotel lobby transports me from a day onsite to evening plans with my wife. She coincidentally had a work trip in Denver during my organization’s software go-live, so she was able to spend a night with me in gorgeous Denver, the sunshine state. My eyes scan the lobby and catch her standing with her company-issued black backpack and purple hard shell luggage. She has a “god, I am done with travel for today” look, one I’m intimately familiar with. I wrap up my conversation with my work colleague Jason and greet her with a big hug. It’s Thursday, and we haven’t seen each other since Saturday, when I left for go-live. Hell, I hadn’t seen her since last month. We’re used to being apart, both traveling across the country to implement healthcare software. But I’ve missed her more than usual this week, as today we’re going to take what feels like our thousandth pregnancy test.

It’s been something like nine months since we starting trying to get pregnant. We had no idea what we’re doing, and didn’t think we needed to be overly prescriptive about it. People have sex all the time and accidentally have kids, it shouldn’t be that difficult to do when we’re actually okay with that outcome. But there’s a few factors we had to stumble through before we started doing things (we think) the right way.

First, your body and mind have to be ready to have the babies. When you’ve used various forms of birth control for your entire adult life, your wife’s body has to get back its biological balance. So that took some time for her body to recognize we’re not trying to suppress things for once. From my side, for someone who has tried his whole life to avoid accidentally becoming a father, there was some considerable psychological obstacles. Like, maybe I was actually sterile this whole time? Was it just luck that I hadn’t fathered any children yet?

Shockingly enough, you then have to actually be in the same city at the same time, you know, to have sex. Who would’ve thought? Not only that, you need to time adult-time when your wife’s said biological body is in prime procreating condition, aka ovulating. Being  together at the same time, mentally and physically, when the ovulating stars align isn’t that easy for two people traveling three out of four weeks a month. And lastly, and this is important, when all those other pieces fit, you can’t treat making babies like you’re doing the dishes or driving to the bank. It can’t be a sterile, mechanical process where the only goal is to put the players in position.

After a while, that last part hadn’t been so easy for either of us. You start putting a lot of pressure on yourselves after a few months. You know you have to do it, but both my wife and I seemed to excuse ourselves from romantic effort, or even stepping up our personal hygiene. It wouldn’t have hurt me too much to do ten push-ups a day and not eat pizza the night we were going to play creators. But alas, we got ourselves more worked up about the process than just doing the damn thing.

That changed with a frank conversation between husband and wife. We both basically said, “Why the fuck are we trying so hard? Why aren’t we trying to enjoy this?” From that moment on, and I’ll spare you the details, team morale improved. We got our minds right and things have gone really well over the past two months. Still, even if it’s been two months of happy love at the right time of the month, it’s cumulatively felt like a long time.

So today feels like a big occasion. If our pregnancy test ends up being positive, it’ll be a huge celebration for the two of us, and a bigger sigh of relief. If we still aren’t having a baby, we’ll live, but those nagging doubts from a few months ago are going to start coming back up.

Back at the hotel, we say goodbye to Jason as we step out of the elevator onto my hotel room’s floor. Admittedly, I’m a bit nervous. We make our way into my rented room and she sits on the freshly made California king. I ask her about her flight in, though I really don’t care. We both travel and we both know every shitty thing that can happen during travel. It’s a throw away question. My wife must feel the same way as she responds, “it was fine.” I tell her I need to pee before she does, which actually wasn’t a delay tactic. I have the bladder of a woman three times my age.

I finish my business and come back to into the main hotel room, and Rachel is still sitting in the same spot on the bed. She’s bouncing a little bit with anxiety; her hands rubbing her knees with anticipation. She points to the new box sitting on the bed and says, “I know it’s stupid and superstitious, but you need to open this one. I’ve opened every single box and I just can’t open this one.” That sounds like sound logic to me. I don’t want to go another month with no buns in our family oven, and if the box opener could even be loosely correlated to our pregnancy test success, then she needs to step aside.

So I grab and open the box in the same way I’d open a box of Chicken in a Biskit crackers. I pull out the cotton packaging until all that’s left is the test and pull it out. It’s not in a plastic package, which seems kind of gross. Like, why wouldn’t they package these things in plastic? I pull it out and stare at it and it’s like the house lights at a concert finally flip on. My wife already took the test. I look at the math on the pregnancy indicator and I see a plus sign. We’re going to be parents.

Allow me a bit of revisionist history for the past two paragraphs. My anxious wife, who can’t keep a secret from me if her life depended on it (seriously, I’m worried that one day if authorities ever come looking for me, she won’t be able to resist telling them I’m under the floorboards hiding from the fact that I downloaded a bunch of metalcore albums in 2008), is losing her cool and needs me to open the box she compromised earlier in the day. The box is completely unwrapped of its plastic packaging and actually open on the bottom. She was banking on me opening it from the still-sealed top, which I did. Unbeknownst to me, pregnancy test kits don’t come with cotton packaging. The cotton I yanked out and threw to the bed was a onesie with “hello dad!” written on it. I completely skipped that part. The pregnancy test, again unwrapped, finally set me off.

She calls me out, “you didn’t even look at the onesie, you just threw it!” as she lays it flat so I can read it. I start tearing up and yelling out how happy I am. My wife gets on one knee, and asks me if I will do her the honor of being her baby’s father and slips a pacifier on my finger. Considering how cute and intentionally cheesy her proposal is, she sounds surprisingly nervous to ask. I hug her and we collectively breath a sigh of excitement and relief. The weight of the past nine months melts away and we float above the third floor hotel carpet.

May 5, 2017

My son wakes up with an ear-to-ear smile. He is loud and giggly and distracted. He spits up all over his mom and smiles while he does it. He’s a talker and likes seeing how much of his hands he can shove into his mouth. My wife is running late, showering and blow drying her hair furiously. She has an appointment with our personal trainer and still needs to collect everything she needs for the day, including her breast pump parts.

I’m changing the boy’s diaper and talking to him two octaves higher than I typically speak. I’ve been working on toning it down to a manageable range, but my mom talks to babies and animals with the same high-pitched tone. I think it’s genetic. I put him in his blue and green striped bodysuit with a small triceratops over his heart. He’s patient while I load him into his car seat and even smiles as I strap him in. I drive him the 300 feet to our daycare and he’s greeted by the staff and the other baby there this morning. I hate saying goodbye to him in the mornings, but know that I have a full day of adult shit to do before I can get back to him. This is exactly the life I hoped for in that hotel room one year ago.

Vonnegut & the Tadpole

You’re seven weeks along in your physical existence. I know this because I have an app that tells me you’re seven weeks along in your physical existence. Your cells, masters of division that they are, are splitting at a furious rate. While you do that, I’ll share a bit of what’s happening out here. You know, I used to ask my parents what they were like before I was born. I’ve never known Norma and Phil: young irresponsible lovers. Their responses were spotty, and it’s understandable. If I had to think back twenty years ago, I’d be able to say I was in 6th grade and that I liked basketball. That’s about all I could give you. So for posterity’s sake, I figured I’d document what life is like for me right now while you’re still a tadpole.
I’m sitting in a Delta airplane in seat 1A. The worst of the first class seats. My luggage is several rows behind me, along with my brief case (it’s a back pack…who am I kidding?). It’s inconvenient. When the pilot finally rings his bell and lets us move about the cabin, I’ll have to stand up and walk to the overhead luggage cabinet to get my computer, while juggling my phone, my headphones, and my free gin & tonic. Where am I supposed to put that free booze for safe-keeping? Next to my single-serve friend in 1B? No. He’s a mouth-breather and brought a hot sandwich on board. 1B sucks.

This is an all-too-real example of the affluent me-first bullshit that you’ll hear me complain about from time to time. I see versions of this when I travel. People in American culture today call those first-world problems. Even as they rest their wide asses in the best seats in the house, some people feel like they were slighted by someone or something.

Your dad (still weird for me to say) flew in first class a lot before you were born because of my job, which boiled down to telling people how to talk to each other and making sure they do the things they were put in charge of doing. I pay for all of this fancy travel on my American Express credit card, which is then paid off by my employer. You may never use or understand credit cards. Who knows? Maybe they will go the way of the checkbook. I’ll have to show you a checkbook sometime. We may need to look online for examples. That is, if “online” is a concept by the time we have this actual conversation. Jesus, how the hell are things going to work by the time you read this?

Where was I? Ah…all these charges and reimbursements on the ol’ AmEx mean I accrue loyalty points. Like XP in video games. Shit, will I have to explain what a video game was to you? Focus, old man. These all add up to certain benefits. I’m rewarded for minimal effort. The lesson here is, don’t be fooled by false entitlement. And don’t assume you can predict how things will work in the future.

I’m headed to San Diego, California. San Diego: the city my mother romanticized when I was a child and the same city where I asked your mother to marry me. Mom was right, it’s a romantic city. I am here for five days to help a hospital change their electronic medical record. The company I work for takes all the different areas of healthcare and makes them work together by using the same software. The company itself is directly responsible for almost everything good in my life, including moving to Wisconsin, meeting and marrying your beautiful mother. This week’s main objective is to discuss the exotic world of medication inventory, or how to keep track of all your shit.

But let’s talk about you. According to my app, you’re a tiny little creature who just this week started developing lungs. Good job, sweetheart. I’m so proud of you. Only your mom and I know about the hard work you’re doing inside her belly. Staying tight-lipped is tough, but we’re supposed to wait a few more weeks before we share you with the world. Right now you’re more reptilian than human. But, just a couple weeks ago you were more fish than reptile, so you’re making your trek along the evolutionary highway. If you grow feathers you took a wrong turn.

Oh, and as for me? Well, I’m just sort of hanging out right now. Up to this point, my main contribution to your existence has been relatively brief. Over the past few weeks I’ve basically taken on your mother’s liquor quota and eaten whatever I shouldn’t. I have an all-access “get disgusting” pass. My young buff body has gone the way of the dodo.* I’m sure I’ll snap into shape soon enough though (I didn’t). I hope you’re working your tail off, literally, to become a healthy human. You’re an adorable little tadpole, but human lungs will serve you better above water.

Keep growing, little nugget.

-Love, Dad

*Little did I know, that my boy’s birth would be the one thing that encouraged me to finally exercise in nearly 8 years.

I. In the beginning, we knew nothing.

October 29, 2015
The sun is high and bright in the South African sky. The clocks say 7 a.m., but I don’t believe it. It’s got to be noon already. It’s our last morning in Cape Town and my wife doesn’t feel well. Struggling to sleep through the all-night house party a floor above us, she’s felt nauseous all morning. This must be it. She’s pregnant. We been trying since our August anniversary and two months has felt like forever. While she hugs the toilet, I’m standing on our small balcony taking in the views one last time. Our street leads up to Signal Hill; a hill much bigger than any mountain in Wisconsin. In the other direction the street descends into a maze of residential roads. Past the neighborhood’s trees sits a vacant Cape Town Stadium.

Black socks, black shirts, and denim shorts lay on the balcony’s built-in drying racks. Stiff and crisp underwear are spread across the patio table. As I fold our clothes to pack for our next stop, my wife is now peeing on a stick. A brilliant idea pops in my head. I start recording a video diary on the balcony. When she walks out of the bathroom, I’ll turn to her and we’ll have documented the moment our family math added up to three. After about twenty seconds I run out of things to say and sights to film, so I stop the video and wait for her to come out. She stays in there for about ten more minutes. Wow, morning sickness must be really getting her.

When she finally comes out, I’m onto new things. “It was negative,” she says, defeated. Damn. “Maybe the hormones just aren’t elevated enough this early in the morning. We’ll try again later today.* Let’s pack up and get coffee and head to the botanical gardens.”

After a walk to Shift Espresso I take us on an anxiety-inducing car ride to Kirstenbosch Gardens. Driving on the left side of the road from the right side of a car is about as intuitive as wiping my ass with my foot.^ The gardens are breathtaking and I feel like I’m prancing through Jurassic Park. It’s way more amazing than I expected, yet my ghost-of-a-wife is barely keeping up. I’m taking it personally. “You’re not pregnant yet, and we’re on vacation in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Can’t you just suck it up?”

That I am this disconnected from my wife’s needs reveals a much deeper imbalance with my stress and self-happiness. I am ready to quit a job that just a year ago had been very meaningful to me. This sabbatical is my company’s way of thanking me for five years of work, but it’s my way of escaping and spending their money to do it, with two emphatic middle fingers pointed towards Wisconsin. I deserve this, dammit. Now we’re at the edge of the world, and my wife isn’t feeling well. It’s not fair. (Later that day she’ll spend six hours sweating off a really nasty sickness, and I get the honor of staring out at the ocean alone and reflecting on how much of an asshole I have been.)

We sputter to Kalk Bay for a three night stay at a Nordic-inspired guesthouse. My wife goes up to our room — the Impala room, to pass out. I’m still pissy about the gardens. Self-rationalizing that I can’t help her anyway, I make my way down Norman Road to the Main Road shops. I practically sprint into a bookstore, appropriately named Kalk Bay Books, and imagine owning a book store similar to this one. From the bar of the newly reopened Kalk Bay Café I stare out at the ocean, drink white wine and Savannah cider, and write (the drafts of which you’re reading right now) in my travel journal. I chat with the owners about showing the rugby world cup finals tonight on their newly installed flat screen. Springboks vs. All Blacks. They’ll keep the café open if people will come, they say. I never found out if they showed the match or not.

With a little drunken strut in my step I stagger up Norman Road back to the Impala room. The ten-foot-high linen drapes breathe in and out with the ocean breeze. The crisp cool bedding holds me like a cloud coffin. My wife’s fever breaks like a levy while I’m watching the rugby final from bed. She wakes up in a small ocean of sweat. It finally clicks in my big dumb brain that she’s actually just flat out sick.

I mistook the symptoms for something grander.

*We confirmed again when she took another pregnancy test at London’s Heathrow airport during our layover to Dublin. We were incredibly naive about a lot of things, from symptoms to realistic timelines to get pregnant. Also, why did we keep peeing on sticks? Like it was going to magically change the results from two hours ago? The only thing I thought I was sure of was how to make the babies. But even that took a while to get right. More on that next time.
^I have been writing a lot about ass-wiping, and I think it’s directly correlated to what I have going on in my life right now. It shouldn’t be an ongoing theme. But it may.