The contractions came late on a cold January evening in 2000. A blanket of snow uncharacteristically adorned the city of Richmond. Ann’s body was sending a clear message. It was time.
I had acquired a sports stop watch believing somehow that the simple act of timing contractions was going to be a task of near impossible complexity under the crushing stress of labor. After all, it did involve math. Gazing out at the quiet calm of our sleepy city neighborhood and listening to Ann’s softly uttered signals, I realized for the first time that the bright yellow stop watch was an acquisition fueled by anxiety. I had imagined myself hunkered down by the side of the bed gripping the stop watch with white knuckles as limbs thrashed on the bed tearing covers and frightening small furry critters nestled in giant pin oak outside our bedroom window. In my mind, I would be splattered with blood and saliva and god knows what else. It would be war. I chuckled at the ridiculous gleaming stop watch and lay back in bed completely unaware that my impression had not been that far off.
I logged on to my firm’s network and took advantage of the once in a lifetime opportunity to cash in on the valuable capital that a person has on the eve of their first child’s birth. “Dear Manager: Wife’s in labor and anything could happen in any minute. Please take care of all my deadlines.”
Smugly, I put the laptop away and poked around the kitchen. The culinary considerations were complex. I knew that Ann would be working hard. She would need energy. On the other hand, I had heard that labor could induce vomiting. I also knew that Ann was especially finicky at this point. With these thoughts in mind, I lined up some possibilities. An obvious choice was Pasta. Ann is half Italian and pasta is comfort food but then I envisioned regurgitated red sauce splattered on stark white hospital linens about to welcome my precious child into the world. I imagined her first breath fouled by the pungent smell of stomach acid mixed with sheep’s milk pecorino Romano, which, come to think of it, already had faint overtones of vomit. She could be forever predisposed against pasta and red sauce, an important identity peg for her mother. Worst case scenario, Ann would reject her as insufficiently Italian because she would never overcome her utter disgust over pasta and red sauce. It was pushing 3:00 a.m. and I wasted 10 minutes. Cold cereal with soy milk seemed too cold for blustery winter night. Eggs were stricken based on taste parameters alone. Finally, I stumbled on a box of Malt-O-Meal that my uncle in Minneapolis had sent as part of a gag Midwestern care package. This seemed perfect and I liked the idea of my child coming into this world under fuel of something as wholesome and Midwestern as Malt-O-Meal. In some way, this was my very first act of parenthood and that it was well-received was immensely satisfying to me.
For a short while, I would feel composed and confident, but that feeling (through no fault of the Malt-O-Meal) would not last long ...