It was late January, shortly before midnight, when Lucy came downstairs and told me her waters had broken. Maybe. Perhaps it was pee. We hoped it was pee. Because we were more ready for embarrassment than baby. It was five weeks before showtime and we were still setting the stage, still casting supporting actors like Sophie, Boppy, and My Brest Friend.
A year ago, I wasn't sure I wanted a role in this production. I felt old getting married at 40, and three years later the idea of reproducing made me feel even older. Babymaking seemed like something people should do—if at all—when they're young and naive, still pliable in body and career. A baby molds them, and by the time they realize they were squeezed into the long dark tunnel of parenting they're on the other side, Skyping with their grandchildren from a ski lodge in Colorado.
I knew what I had: a career in journalism, such as that is these days; a life of reading and writing and art. I had ambitions, novels I'd never written, travel plans to places not named Disney. I cringed at crying babies on airplanes, enough that my sister once gave me a pacifier to hand to wayward parents. I'd never changed a diaper. Reproduction, I thought, was something you did when you couldn't think of anything else to do.
I was verging on a mid-life crisis, in other words, just as the baby proposition was at hand. I Googled writers with children, fishing for examples—someone who had written the Great American Novel while emptying the Diaper Genie. But I was really trying to reconcile my life. The baby was just a bogeyman, someone in the future I could blame for the past.
It wasn't pee. It was reproduction. By 5 a.m. at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, we had a baby girl, Pepin, who seemed as surprised as we were that she was here on Earth. I never had figured out how she would fit into my life, because I realized that the life I knew would largely be over. I would be starting fresh.
The only part that mattered was the very beginning, when I was a "wisp of undifferentiated nothingness," in Kurt Vonnegut's words, and then my "little peephole" suddenly opened. To behold this big blue-and-green balloon—even with all the air we've let out of it, the wonders we're sapping with our strength—well, it still beats the alternative. To open someone else's peephole, Yes, I thought, you have to see this.
For the next few months, this blog will chronicle my first-time fatherhood. Will My Brest Friend meet My Favorite Fist? Will the Diaper Genie turn poop into steak dinners (or what does he do, exactly?) When do I get to watch cartoons? Ready or not, it's showtime.
(Photo: Pepin luxuriating in the fur of her father at Methodist Hospital.)