Happy 18th Birthday! -- 05/10/00

It seems impossible to grasp that my daughter is eighteen years old today.

Her birth is still so vivid in my mind. How could eighteen years have passed so quickly?

We had been going to Lamaze classes, doing all the new parent preparation stuff. We had her bedroom all set. One wall, the wall where we would put her crib, was wallpapered with a pattern of blue sky and clouds and rainbows. My mother had made striped curtains for her windows. I had put down blue wall-to-wall carpeting. We were as ready as we could be. We did not ahead of time that she would be a girl, but we knew that she would be a girl. We had picked out her name months earlier; we had not even considered a boy's name, we were that sure. (The blue carpet was because we were trying to avoid stereotyped "girly" pink frilly stuff.) Our biggest concern was would the hospital be finished building its new Birthing Center in time. They were making the transition from the old Labor Room and Delivery Room concept to having a collection of Birthing Rooms, decorated and furnished like bedrooms not hospital rooms, where labor and birth could occur in peaceful and pleasant surroundings. We were much relieved that the construction proceeded without delay and we were able to attend an open house to see the new facility.

Nancy woke me up in the middle of the night. "It's time." She called her doctor's phone service. We gathered the pre-packed bags and went out to the car to drive the short distance to the hospital (just three blocks away). The air was still night cool but not at all chilly, containing the promise of a warm spring day ahead. The stars had faded away as the pre-dawn sky had brightened. Lawns damp with dew, flowers blooming. I was nervous, senses hightened by tension and excitement.

Our Birthing Room was, indeed, a pleasant place, looking like a somewhat over-sized mid-level hotel room, a bed, an easy chair, a small table with a lamp, generic artwork on the walls, a private bathroom. But the bed was a hospital bed and there was a collection of hospital paraphenalia next to the bed and the floor was easy-to-mop tile and there was a nurse's station out in the hall. Or, as Nancy later put it, after the first five or six hours of labor she couldn't have cared if her bed was on the hospital loading dock, she just wanted to get it over with.

In our Lamaze classes we had been told to pack some snacks to bring to the hospital. We had packed a number of lolipops but no food. This was an oversight I would come to regret. After we had been in the birthing room an hour or two the nurses brought in breakfast trays for both of us. Nancy did not want any breakfast, take it away, take it all away... she did not want me to eat in front of her but she did not want me to leave the room long enough to eat in the hallway either. As the day went on she rejected lunch and dinner for herself and also the offer of food for me... so I was getting by on black coffee and an occasional lolipop and wishing I'd listened to our Lamaze teacher and tossed a candybar or a few cookies in our hospital bag.

The morning passed with visits from nurses and her doctor, announcements of the number of centimeters of dilation, me coaching her in breathing during episodes of contractions, supplying her with spoons of crushed ice. Between those bouts of contractions we would talk; sometimes she could get out of bed and walk around. Later they would hook up an IV drip and we walked up and down the hallway, rolling the wheeled IV stand and hookup along with us.

Eventually they wanted her to be hooked up to a fetal monitor, so we had one last stroll up and down the hall and then she was confined to bed, attached to this beeping oscilloscope gadget. Then it was suggested that if they broke her waters it might induce labor. Later the doctor decided to administer something-or-other (the spelling of which escapes me at the moment) to induce labor. Finally, as day faded into evening, the doctor began to worry about how long it had been since they had broken her waters and the possibility of infection and the length of labor and possible indications of fetal distress... the upshot of which was the suggestion that a Caesarian was called for.

At this point Nancy's attitude was "Just knock me out and do it!" Off to the operating room. Since this was not a planned Caesarian, there was no question of allowing me into the operating room. Frankly, I had no wish to be in the operating room. Childbirth is one thing, surgery is something completely different. So I waited in a waiting area outside the operating room. It was night, past the time when elective surgeries were scheduled, so I was alone in the waiting area. I wished that I still smoked. I waited. It probably wasn't long, although it seemed endless, when a nurse came out and said I was the father of a baby girl, mother and baby were both fine.

I waited some more. There were vending machines next to me with junk food. I had not eaten since the previous night's dinner. I was wearing hospital scrubs. My money was in my pants in a locker somewhere in the birthing wing. Finally another nurse came out and took me up to the maternity wing where I finally got to see my new baby girl. After much fussing and delay they supplied me with a surgical mask and took her out of her little newborn crib and I got to hold her.

A nurse told me that Nancy was still asleep in the Recovery Room but that she would take me down there and I could wait for her to wake up. She looked at me strangely when I begged her to take me past the Birthing Center first so I could grab some change to buy a candybar to eat on my way to the Recovery Room. When Nancy woke up a bit I told her how beautiful our baby was. She was still very groggy but so happy. After she was taken to her room in the maternity wing and went back to sleep, I quickly changed back into street clothes and dashed back home to make phone calls to my parents and Nancy's parents and my brother and a close friend who had been best man at our wedding and I was surprised to find that it was only around eleven p.m because my time sense was totally off, kind of like jet-lag.

In the morning I was back at the hospital to visit Nancy and "Jennifer" (that's not her real name, just the pseudonym she has chosen for herself to be used in these pages)... How can this have all been eighteen years ago? It seems as if I have just lived through those moments so very recently. Yes, yes, I know I started this entry off by saying that but nevertheless it is so true...

I remember bringing her home from the hospital. She didn't sleep in her new room at first. We had a new crib for her in her room but in our bedroom we had an small old crib that Nancy and all of her brothers and sister (and she is one of ten children!) had used and all of Jennifer's older cousins as well... a family treasure and tradition, passed along from newborn baby to newborn baby.

One day, while she was still just a week or two old, we were in our backyard. Nancy was holding the baby and I was fixing dinner on our grill when Janet and Skip, the neighbors who lived behind us, came over to visit. They informed us that they were kidnapping Jennifer long enough for Nancy and I to have a peaceful meal together, just the two of us. They were (and are) truly wonderful people and Janet was to become Jennifer's caregiver while Nancy and I were at work.

When Nancy's maternity leave was over and she had to return to work, I took my accumulated vacation and holiday leave and took almost eight weeks off from work to stay home and care for Jennifer. Nancy was nursing Jennifer but fortunately her Link Flight Simulation (her employer at the time) had run out of office space for their programmers and had rented a nearby motel for use as programmer offices. I would drive Jennifer there for her feedings. That was essentially how I spent my days... change diaper, put baby in carseat, drive to Nancy's office, Jennifer would breastfeed, back in carseat, drive home, change diaper, put her in her crib for a nap, do laundry, clean house, take her out of crib, change diaper, into carseat, to Nancy's office, breastfeeding, driver her back home, change diaper, put her down for a nap, do more laundry... I'm not sure what I had expected, but that non-stop blur was not it... Don't get me wrong... I loved it... I loved having this beautiful marvelous wonderful baby and being able to take care of her and hold her and rock her and sing to her...

When it was time for me to return to work, Janet became our babysitter, caring for Jennifer five days a week while we worked. (And three years later, when "Sean" was born, Janet watched him as well... it was like an extended family, we shared holidays together, hosting Thanksgiving dinner at our house, etc... a few years later they moved to Texas but they have remained very dear friends and we were delighted last summer when they came to visit us here in Rhode Island.)

Jennifer's first real birthday party was for her second birthday... picture a group of toddlers bumbling about on our front lawn, chasing bubbles and balloons... Her fourth and fifth birthday parties were lots of fun, held at the Discovery Center, a marvelous hands-on children's museum in Binghamton, NY. The next year, her sixth birthday, the Discovery Center had been relocated to Ross Park (which was also the location of the Ross Park Zoo) so we decided to have a picnic party and reserved a set of picnic tables, etc. for the party. Nancy belonged to Toastmasters and she was competing in a contest that was being held in a nearby town that morning, but she would meet us at the park for the party. Howver, things ran a bit long at the competition so she was delayed in getting to the park... there I am, attempting to fasten down a plastic table cloth (the tape I had expected to use was not holding at all), keep an eye on three year old Sean and entertain/watch an increasing number of Jennifer's party guests (all of whose moms seemed to just drop them off and depart immediately)... I was nearing panic mode when I finally saw Nancy approaching. Whew! The party went off without any further problems, we partied outdoors and then lined up and went into the Discovery Center for indoor play.

Other parties of interest have included swim parties at the YMCA and horseback riding parties (had cake and ice cream at home and then took half a dozen girls for a trail ride for her 12th birthday, worked out so well we did it again the next year). We had moved to Rhode Island by the time her 14th birthday came around. Unfortunately we had left the details of inviting people to her and she had mentioned it to friends at school but had not obtained definite committments, so she ended up with immediate family and cousins, etc. but only one kid from school. She had a lot of people over for her 16th, her friends help decorate our basement, lots of pizza and snacks... and then six or eight of her friends slept over... much to Jennifer's annoyance as they wanted to talk late into the night but she had started a part time job and had to get up in the morning and go to work.

Tonight will be our family party, just the four of us with cake and gifts. On Saturday she is inviting her friends over for pizza and videos, etc.

Happy birthday to my wonderful daughter... I love you and I am so proud of you!

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