Owen announced himself on Easter weekend almost two years ago with a hearty wail that captured the attention of everyone in the room. His voice was a bit reedy (it was his first time putting it to use, after all) but still strong and purpose-driven. His face was swollen; his arms and legs and bottom were thick and rounded with baby fat. He was gorgeous. And with each drawn breath and jagged cry, it was as if he were saying, “I’m here, people. Now what?”
Only hours before, we’d arrived at the hospital in pre-dawn darkness with Owen’s birthmother, H., and her grandmother, C., all of us bleary-eyed and nerve-jangled as the kind ladies at the front desk told us they were so, so sorry. There must have been a mix-up, they explained; we were not on the surgeon’s schedule for that day. H., tiny of frame but fully nine months pregnant and ready to do battle if need be, leaned over the reception desk, smiled and calmly told those women that we were having this baby. Today.
We were immediately whisked into a room to change into our scrubs.
Owen’s arrival came much faster than any of us had anticipated, and within minutes we were welcoming this eight pound beast into the world, helping to give him his first bath and surreptitiously counting and re-counting his fingers and toes. (Were they all there? Yes.) The nursery was blissfully empty that morning and the nurse overseeing Owen’s detailing was extraordinarily patient with us: new parents who were clearly overjoyed but also visibly overwhelmed. When we were finally allowed to bring Owen back to our room, swaddled so tightly he looked like a burrito, she gripped our forearms and assured us, in a voice that felt more like a promise than any bit of throwaway advice, that we would be great dads, wonderful fathers.
Holy Thursday and Good Friday and Holy Saturday passed in a blur of two-ounce bottle feedings, diaper changes, unwashed hair and unshaven jawlines. And staring of a kind and degree that would be considered impolite in the Real World: we just could not take our eyes off that little man, and caught ourselves continually touching his nose, his ears, his bald head and soft feet. At two o’clock on Saturday morning he experienced a hiccoughing fit so loud and so protracted we were convinced we’d broken the baby. Clad in our pajamas, eyes barely open, we placed him in his bassinet and sheepishly wheeled him to the nurses’ station, begging for help. The grins and chuckles of the overnight nurses didn’t entirely convince us that we’d not broken Owen. But they were right: his hiccoughing eventually did stop sometime before dawn.
The sky was pink and cloudless on Sunday when I stumbled into the hospital cafeteria to find cups of weak coffee for Jerry and me. The big day had finally arrived, and we were all to be discharged from the hospital that afternoon. We’d already turned the owner’s manual for the car seat into a sad, dog-eared mess and stockpiled as much formula as the maternity ward would allow. A few cafeteria workers were readying the food line for the impending morning rush, and I could hear the rattle and clang of hotel pans. The long tables were empty save one. C., H.’s grandmother, sat with a styrofoam cup in front of her, a mobile phone pressed to her ear. We’d met her for the first time on Wednesday when we greeted her at the airport with her granddaughter. In the swirl of the airport, she’d set down her carry-on, given us big, sweeping hugs and said, “When H. told me that she was placing Owen with Scott and Jerry, I thought ‘Jerry’ was a petite blonde in six inch heels.”
I motioned toward the coffee pot and pinched together a thumb and forefinger to suggest I’d only be a minute if she wanted some privacy.
“One of the boys is here,” she exclaimed, waving me over and handing me the phone. I pressed it to my ear.
“Scott? This is C.’s husband, T.” I said hello in return. “I haven’t met you but … C. and I just know that you and Jerry will be extraordinary parents to that little boy. And I just want to say thank you.”
C. was smiling when I handed her the phone. Her eyes were red; we were all tired. I smiled and pointed at the coffee pot again. She nodded, waving me away, and returned the phone to her ear.
That afternoon, H. and I stood on line at the pharmacy, waiting for the druggist to pull together a few things for her. We were uncharacteristically quiet. After three months of phone calls and visits, of talks about her plans for school and our dreams for this little boy; after Owen’s incredible arrival and three sleep-deprived nights for all of us, we were quite comfortable with a bit of silence. We leafed through copies of celebrity magazines and waited for her name to be called.
It was nearly evening when we brought Owen back to the hotel that had served as home for Jerry, my mother and me for the last week or so. The parking attendant and front desk crew greeted us warmly and cooed over the little man. We collapsed at one of the tables on the first floor where we’d shared meals over the previous week. The room was deserted. It was Easter, after all, and families were celebrating elsewhere — in church and at home over elaborate meals. Norm, the bartender who’d befriended us that week, wandered over with a few menus before noticing the car seat next to us with Owen tightly swaddled inside. He broke into a goofy grin and offered celebratory high-fives. Jerry and my mother each ordered a simple pasta dish with shrimp and garlic; I ordered a Reuben sandwich with fries.
“Scott.” A pause. “Scott.”
It was Jerry. I’d already fallen asleep at the table, with one hand on the half sandwich I’d started to eat. He smiled and held my hand. I rubbed my eyes and tried to slap a little pep back into my face. Owen still slept soundly in his car seat, covered with a soft blue blanket. It was not the Easter Sunday or holiday meal any of us could possibly have imagined: in a hotel surrounded by strangers who’d somehow become part of this journey, eating pasta and corned beef and struggling mightily against sleep, with our son sleeping quietly nearby. But it was perfect.
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