Below is Part III of my essay Everything Since: Five Weeks at Home With a Baby, Five Months as a Father. Part III was posted yesterday, Part II was posted on Tuesday and Part I was posted on Monday. I'd recommend reading in order.
Five months in, five weeks spent at home with her, and you get better at it. You learn. You react. You try and remember for next time. You correct people when they call what you did babysitting. You think you’ll never be able to do this again. You can’t wait to do it again. You force yourself to relive the moments that you just put your head down and got through, the terms you learned to use (oxygen levels, lumbar puncture, antibiotics course), because the doctor warned you that in the not too-distant future, where I write from now, that the room in the N.I.C.U, the nights, the days, marking papers in the unit break room, that it would all be forgotten, as if it hadn’t happened.
And while the memory of those moments still bottom my stomach out, I keep myself in that place from time to time, relive the tears, the new level of heartache I’ve come to understand, because I don’t want to forget.
It did happen.
So while I may not remember my first thought when she was born, I’m doing my best to get down everything since, like using a stick to scratch L.D. Was Here in the still-wet-concrete part of my brain.
In the five weeks I spent home with Luna, I learned that four ounces isn’t quite enough, but five ounces is a guaranteed puke.
I learned that the things that made her laugh would only make her laugh for so long.
I learned to point out you’ve been fed, you’ve been changed, and you’ve been loved and that sometimes, she even stopped crying.
I learned that mental exhaustion is every bit as real as physical exhaustion.
I learned that the amount of time she naps for is exactly two minutes longer than the amount of time it takes to clean up from the time she was awake, just enough time to exhale before taking a big breath and going down for more.
I learned to decipher the timbre of each cry.
I learned how to give her a bottle in such a way that she seemed to genuinely enjoy it, seemed to enjoy the time spent on my lap, as I rubbed her head and dabbed at the milk that spilled from the corners of her mouth. I learned that it still wasn’t quite the same as the breast, though, and that that was okay.
I learned to distinguish between the quality burp cloths and the crummy burp cloths.
I learned the signs. And even better, I still see them.
I learned that now that my wife and I are back at work, that I’ve begun to say what is essentially a long series of goodbyes to my daughter, and that before each one I won’t want to say it, and after each one I will regret it. And that in that moment, I will regret bringing a child into specifically this world, only to thrust her into the hands of others, and through my leaving her day after day, force her to begin to understand the basic, shitty truths about our world, our lives, our existence.
But I won’t leave off like that.
In my five weeks at home with Luna, I also learned that her smile when she first wakes up in the morning is a physical representation of something one can usually only feel—so pure, and honest, and overflowing with an amount of joy and hope that most adults can no longer fathom.
I learned that she’s got so much to teach me.