Up more than twenty-four hours with no sleep, I was beyond tired, but it didn’t matter. I was the only one awake, so they gave her to me.
There were three of us in the room — my wife (asleep now, finally), a nurse, and me.
No, wait — four of us. Four. There would always now be one more person in the room than I was used to.
The nurse bathed her and washed her hair…a little roughly, I thought. My brain maxed out on stress hormones and glee and sheer exhaustion, I had my first moment of true Dadness, thinking, She’s being too rough. I should stop her. I should tell hospital management that this nurse is too rough with the newborns.
(A couple of days later, the same nurse discharged us. No longer sleep-deprived, I saw her as a friend, not an enemy. Especially when she stopped in the middle of examining my daughter to exclaim, “My God, you look just like your daddy!”)
In that quiet, nigh-empty delivery room that had — moments ago — been crowded and loud, the nurse handed me my daughter. “She likes having her hair washed. Remember that.”
Well, OK. In that moment, it seemed surreal and useless information.
“She’s really something,” the nurse said, and smiled, and left.
I stood there, a dad for all of forty-five minutes, holding my daughter as though she would break. My mind bifurcated, half of it focused on the moment, the other half thinking, Are you kidding me? They’re just gonna leave her with me?
But there was no one else. My wife was blissfully asleep (probably the only peaceful sleep she would enjoy for the next few months) and I was on-deck. I cradled the little critter in my arms, trying to hold on tight without also crushing her. It seemed impossible, this minor task, and I reminded myself that somehow cavemen had managed to hold their kids without killing them. Surely I could figure it out, too.
She slept. She’d had a rough day, too. Being born isn’t for weaklings.
Those first moments terrified me, but in retrospect, I am glad for them. In all the craziness and adrenaline of birth, there was precious little time to relax and enjoy her. Now, only an hour or so after she came into the world, I had her all to myself. For a little while, at least.
My wife slept and I paced the room (I was actually afraid to sit down, thinking if I did so, I would fall asleep, too) for what felt like hours, but was probably only thirty minutes or so. I did my best to turn off my thoughts and just enjoy the moment(s), drinking in her wrinkled little face, her nearly invisible eyebrows, her tiny, uncoordinated little limbs. She was a mass of potential, of helpless cries and coos, a fourth trimester fetus who could barely see or move. A little bit of nothing who was something.
A year later, that wrinkled face is full-cheeked, a squirrel storing acorns for the winter. The eyebrows have come in, and those uncoordinated limbs now obey her commands (mostly).
She points to the books she wants, the toys she wants, the kitchen implements she is not going to get her hands on until she’s, like, twenty-three. She staggers around the apartment like a drunkard, mumbling encouragements to herself. She lights up when she’s tired and you ask if she needs a nap. She occasionally says something close enough to “Dada” that I’ve decided she either knows who I am or is deeply fascinated by deconstruction. (I’m fine with it either way.)
She’s figured out how to activate the screen on my Apple Watch and she laughs hysterically when she sees either of her grandmothers, and she loves nothing more than listening in on a conversation between Daddy and Siri.
The nurse was right: She was something.
One year later, she’s everything.