Six years ago today
I am a new daddy. Forty-eight hours after Jack’s birth, I am still overcome with joy. When my wife and son sleep, I can’t stop crying. My family is safe, my son Jack is here, my life will never be the same. I am experiencing instant love, and it is the most beautiful thing on earth. I find myself asking, What did I ever do to deserve this?
Three years and three days ago
It is less than an hour after Dylan’s birth. I am a new daddy again, and I am overcome with joy. I look down at him, and he is beautiful. I am still staring at him when a newly minted doctor slips into our room with a grim look on her face. She tells us our new son has a massive tumor in his abdominal cavity. In an instant, our world darkens and swirls and tilts. This can’t be happening. The doc leads me to another room and shows me the x-ray of Dylan’s tiny stomach — on one side, all you see is solid white. I stand there and nod back. I can’t speak.
That night, I cry on the phone with my friend Greg. I hold Nancy’s hand until she falls asleep. I pace the hospital floors until the wee hours. I stare at the walls. I stare at Dylan — he is so beautiful.
Three years and two days ago
A platoon of doctors comes in and tells us that it was all an awful misdiagnosis, that it all was wrong, that the white mass in that x-ray was, in fact, an air pocket, that our Baby Dylan is perfect. A trip to radiology confirms it. I am numb. My family is safe, Dylan actually is healthy — in fact, uncommonly strong. It takes us a long time to truly believe the doctors — months and months.
Ten days ago
Tomorrow is a big day. Tomorrow Dylan will have his own birthday party. And tonight, all is silent. Twenty-four cupcakes are fresh out of the oven, cooling on a “cupcake tree.” The boys are in their jammies enjoying the final minutes of “Walking with Prehistoric Beasts.” Nancy is in the back room. I’m in the backyard setting up the chairs.
And then: “Oh my God, no. …No … No … VENUS!”
We all meet in the kitchen, where Nancy is staring at the cupcake tree — it is empty, except for two cupcakes. I scan the counter, then the floor. No crumbs anywhere. No paper wrappers anywhere. The cupcake tree remains upright. Venus, our Golden Retriever, sits on her giant pillow, her eyes extra large, but not quite apologetic. She knows she has a sickness, and she knows she’ll never stop. Dylan runs over, lowers his brows and squats in front of her. “Bad Venus,” he shouts, and slaps his knee. “No more cupcakes.”
Around 10pm, I’m in line at Albertson’s with two more boxes of Betty Crocker. The pregnant lady behind me is buying just one item — a two-gallon jug of prune juice. She looks at my Betty Crocker, I glance at her prune juice, and we nod in silent affirmation. You don’t go to Albertson’s at 10pm unless you’re in trouble.
It’s Jack’s first day of first-grade. He’s smiling and joking with his classmates. Mrs. Stapleton sits them down and leads them in a sweet song about friendly faces, and Nancy fights back tears. I look at Jack and think of all the times I slept beside his bassinet with my fingertips on his chest, worried he’d stop breathing, all the times I changed his diapers, all the times he needed to be rocked, all the times I had to put a favorite toy in “Daddy Jail,” all the times he cried out in the night and we’d come padding down the hallway, all the times he needed Mommy and no one else would do, all the firsts — the first steps, the first words, the first day in big-boy underwear, the first haircut, the first rush to the hospital, the first time he saw something that truly ignited his imagination, the first time he insisted that his mysterious and elusive friend, “Abey Dabey Cabey,” was real and so very complex.
Now I look at my son, who’s ready for this new adventure, and I think back on that first day in the maternity ward, when Mommy and Baby Jack were both asleep, when I stared at him and imagined a time way off in the future, a time when this child would be running and jumping and laughing and discovering, a time when his laughter would fill our house, a time when he’d run off to new adventures all on his own.
Just like today.