First Born

Tears streamed down my cheeks when the nurse handed me my newborn daughter and I held her in my arms for the very first time. She had me the moment that I looked into those big, brown eyes and cradled her tiny hand in mine. My heart overflowed with a love so strong that only another parent would understand it. It’s inconceivable how such a tiny thing can have such a powerful effect on a grown man, but I knew then that I’d lay down my life for this little girl. She’d never live a day without love. That much I knew.

We named her Grace Marie, and she instantly became the center of our small universe. Her birth changed us, both of us. Something awoke in my wife that I can only describe as amazing and wonderful and just a little frightening. That momma bear instinct is not a myth. It’s real, and its power will not be denied. Tiffany and I went from being doting, equal newlyweds to me being pushed down a rung or two on the ladder of importance. I knew my place, and I watched in wonder as she became a mother in every sense of the word. I’d never been prouder of someone in my life.

In the months leading up to Grace’s arrival, excitement brimmed in our family. My parents were set to be grandparents for the first time, an event that they thought would never come given that none of their boys had shown any sort of inclination toward parenthood. Watching our own parents struggle through it made all three of us very hesitant to take on the responsibility, but maturity and meeting the right partner changed all of that.

Dad and I talked almost every day as we had for much of the past few years. I could hear the excitement in his voice when he asked about Tiffany and how she was doing. For much of his life, Dad was rarely sentimental or reflective, but the impending birth of his first grandchild opened up a part of him that I hadn’t seen. He’d long ago abandoned the dispensing of fatherly advice, but that version of him reemerged for one last time before Grace was born. It was during one of those moments of clarity that he gave me the best advice I ever received about becoming a father.

“Just love ’em. That’s all you can do. A lot of things will happen that you can’t control, so just love ’em.”

There was nothing earth-shattering or revealing in that little bit of poignant advice, but I always came back to it when I over-thought my role as a father. It certainly helped when Tiffany and I took turns getting up in wee hours of the morning to tend to our newborn daughter. It helped later when she started to crawl, then walk and began to develop her own, very independent personality. No matter what I just love her. It really is that simple.

On the drive home from the hospital the day after Grace was born, Tiffany started crying because we were alone and had responsibility for another human being. Unaware of the drama, Grace slept soundly in her car seat in the back of the car, strapped in like she was flying on an F-16. I consoled Tiffany as I gripped the steering wheel with one hand, but I just kept thinking to myself to take one step at a time. Thinking about the days, months, and years ahead seemed too overwhelming at that moment.

Later that evening we gave Grace her first bath. While she had taken one at the hospital with nary a sigh, she screamed bloody murder when we put her swaddled little body in the warm bath water. She didn’t calm down until her frazzled parents had returned her to her cute little duckling pajamas. Back in the warmth of her onesie, she lay on the changing table staring at her own reflection in the window while we sighed in exhaustion. Neither of us thought we’d make it. Day one was that hard, but in spite of it all, she came to life right before our eyes.

No matter the difficulty, there wasn’t a day that went by where I couldn’t wait to get home from work to see my little girl. As she got older and began to interact more, she would get the biggest smile on her face when she’d see me come through the door. Sometimes, Tiffany would hear the garage door open and she’d hold Grace at the door when I walked in. I’d walk into Grace’s outstretched arms and tiny kisses, and life was never better.

We fell into our routines, the three of us. Tiffany and I usually ended our days reading in bed, and Grace became part of that ritual. I’d read her a story or two every night before we put her to bed. The B Book, Green Eggs & Ham, and Goodnight Moon were on a regular rotation with her before she could even sit up on her own. I’d read in funny voices and react with surprise when the big, brown bear bumped into the banana boxes. Grace squealed with delight. Cuddling that sweet little girl in my lap every night to read became one of my favorite things to do. I bonded with her over one of my favorite activities, a bond that we still share today.

As idyllic as those days seemed (at least in my memory), it wouldn’t be life without adding yet another change into the mix. Tiffany and I planned on having two kids (or four, but that’s another story), and we decided that we wanted them close together in age so that they could relate to each other more easily. We also likened it to yanking the Band Aid off quickly rather than pulling it off slowly. By the time Grace reached nine months old, Tiffany was pregnant with our second child. It felt different, this second go-round, experience (and survival) made it all seem plausible that we could manage an ever-larger family.

I remembered how much fun I had with my brothers growing up. Sure, there were some difficult times when we fought like mortal enemies, but there were many more good times. I couldn’t imagine life without them, and as I had grown older, I realized how important they were to me. I hoped to give Grace and her future sibling the same thing, which to me was the one of greatest gifts a parent could give their kids. I didn’t think much about that growing up part, which often obscures the whole idea of a “gift.”

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