5:00AM Thursday morning. Ugh, what an ungodly hour for an alarm to go off. But if we hadn’t driven in last night from my farm in western New Jersey it would have been a 3AM wakeup. Hmm, a quick check of the emails—what else does one do first thing in the morning? It’s from a friend on Mykonos: “Call me. It’s important.” My guess is it’s in response to my request for information about an esoteric Greek funeral practice tied into my new Andreas Kaldis novel.
I reply, “Am on way to the hospital. Will call later.”
There’s another message from the same friend. “Call me after the baby is born.”
After the baby is born. Wow. Seeing the phrase in black and white (pixels) makes an impact. My baby girl is having her own baby this morning. Her first. It’s set for 7:30AM.
I’ve been so busy this week cutting away the remaining trees downed by hurricane Sandy that I haven’t had time to work on my post for Saturday. And I know that I won’t be able to focus on a “Greek piece” this week. But come to think of it, with all the time Greeks spend obsessed with the “fixins” for babies, perhaps it might be a refreshing change to focus on the back end of the courting process. My sort of in real time existential take on “Waiting for Baby.”
5:45AM. We’re headed north to Huntington Hospital. It’s close by the Long Island Sound, not far from where we’re staying just south of the Long Island Expressway. Officially the LIE is Interstate 495, Long Island’s commuter backbone, known affectionately to those whose lives are tethered to it as “the Long Island Distressway” or “The World’s Longest Parking Lot.” I remember living out this way in the early 70s. Beautiful place, offering a wonderful life…if you don’t mind rush hour commutes into NYC.
6:00 AM. Made it to the hospital and found the Labor and Delivery Waiting Room. Impressive name. Too bad the green carpeting and mismatched green-brown furniture doesn’t cut it. But who cares about the décor—which probably is why it’s as bad as it is—I just hope we get to see Karen before she goes into surgery. She’s having a Caesarian delivery. Strange name. I always heard it came from the way Julius Caesar entered the world, but according to all-knowing Wikipedia (thank God the waiting room has wireless), that theory’s been debunked. It’s now thought to derive from the verb caedere … to cut…as in to cut through the abdominal wall to deliver the baby.
It’s so much easier being a man.
I’m not worried. Nor is my daughter. At least she wasn’t when we spoke last night before she went to sleep. Honest, I’m not worried.
6:15AM. Karen’s mother, Judy, and Judy’s husband, Joe, arrive in the waiting room. Three strangers also are in there and have been since before Barbara and I got there. They’re the quiet type. Haven’t said a word to anyone. But they won’t remain that way for long. Judy—that’s my ex-wife—is naturally gregarious, capable of drawing monks vowed to silence into animated conversation. She pulls out a photo of Karen taken less than an hour after she was born. My handwritten note on the back gives the details. I was anal then. I was a lawyer.
6:45AM. Karen’s husband, Terry, pops into the waiting room to say we can see Karen. We follow him through a maze of turns and doorways, complete with one wrong turn attributable to an anxious pappy moment. There’s the room and inside is Karen, all smiles and calm amid monitors and an IV hookup. I can hear the baby’s heartbeat: loud, strong, and ready to take on the world.
7:15AM. Terry’s mom and dad arrive. Three sets of grandparents hovering and waiting for the big moment. I sure hope the new kid is into hugging. Terry says it’s our last chance to toss out name suggestions. I’ll spare you that, but believe me when I say it’s easier to title a new book.
7:30AM. Nurse comes in to prepare Karen and says we have to leave. We head down to the cafeteria for coffee. I think I’ll write. Not a chance. Judy has new photographs of our son’s children to share.
8:00AM. Terry shows up in the cafeteria. Things are delayed. A woman who’s been in labor all night now needs an emergency C-section, so Karen’s time has been pushed back a bit. The nurse told Terry to get something to eat and Karen to rest. We tease him about his “deer in the headlights” look…a natural segue considering his up close and personal SUV run in with a Long Island Bambi the day before yesterday.
8:15AM. Terry gets a call from Karen. Everyone’s listening as he says, “Wow.”
He hangs up to a chorus of “What’s ‘Wow’?”
Answer: “Doctor said that since Karen isn’t in distress and other women are facing more difficult situations, her delivery is now pushed back to at least noon, maybe as late as 2PM. But Karen has to rest, and we have the choice of hanging around in the waiting room or cafeteria until then or leaving the hospital and coming back later.
Barbara and I vote for going back to sleep.
9:00AM. Back at the hotel I receive a SMS from Terry. He suggests we wait to hear from him before returning to the hospital because the doctor said there are likely to be more delays. I try calling my friend in Greece. No answer. I send a SMS on the situation to my son and brother. I fall asleep.
11:00AM. Message from Terry: Looks like she’ll go in at 2.
12:30 PM. I never realized how many Dunkin’ Donut shops there are on Long Island. Maybe it’s just how many times we’ve driven past the same one in the last twelve hours, but there does happen to be one right next door to the baby store we’re looking for. Barbara suspects it has the “perfect” stuffed animal. In exchange for her promise that we can go to Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee “after,” I join her in the hunt for bunny rabbit. It’s decision time: Do I prefer the pink, blue, beige, or white one? I try feigning nonchalance: “Whichever one shows the least dirt.” That’s how I choose my cars these days, so why shouldn’t it work for bunny rabbits?
I know, it’s pink for girls and blue for boys, but that requires you know the sex and we don’t. Karen doesn’t want to know the ending before she finishes the story. Sounds like a mystery writer’s daughter to me.
2 PM. Back in the Labor and Delivery Waiting Room. It’s just the six of us on baby watch, plus a receptionist. No one wants to talk about anything serious…even baseball’s off limits. It’s just old memories retold, recast, reminisced. Funny isn’t it how life’s genuinely significant events are so often surrounded by mindless waiting.
A television mounted on the far wall is running a (badly written) soap opera. I’m sure the last time I knowingly sat in one place for so long with a soap opera playing on television was in some Greek hospital’s waiting room, but that show would have made more sense. The only person watching it is the receptionist. Perhaps it’s “General Hospital” and she considers it part of a work-study program.
2:15 PM. Another couple comes in. Now it’s eight people plus the receptionist and she’s still the only one watching TV. Two are reading newspapers, one a magazine, another a Kindle, two are on iPads, and one is just staring off into the middle distance. I’m typing away on my Macbook Air.
A Reese’s mini-pieces commercial comes on the TV. I look up. Finally, something on TV I can sink my teeth into.
2:30PM. Terry stops in to say Karen is now in the delivery room. Everyone’s quiet. We know it’s time. He leaves.
2:55 PM. An SMS from Terry. “In for epidural.”
3:15PM. The hospital’s PA system breaks the silence with Brahms’ Lullaby. We’re told it’s played throughout the hospital every time there’s a new baby born.
My heart jumps. Could it be ours? I’m really excited, almost in tears. “Oh my gosh,” says Terry’s mother, Joyce, to her husband, Tom. Judy’s husband starts taking photos of everyone. I try imagining my daughter’s face at that moment. Six very excited people are now waiting for confirmatory news.
3:30PM. No one’s told us anything yet. Terry’s mom walks down to the nursery. Comes back with no news.
3:55PM. Still no word. Where’s Terry? Where’s an SMS? The mothers are getting worried, the fathers are acting as if they’re not.
4:00PM. Tensions are rising. Talk is now onto politics. If the baby doesn’t show up soon we might need to switch the TV to the World Wide Wresting channel to properly reflect the changing mood in the room.
4:05PM. Right on cue Terry shows up in the doorway. His mother cries and hugs him. He says to come with him to see Karen and the baby. “So what is it?” we ask. He says they want to tell us the details together. Dramatists both.
It seems a long walk, but Terry knows the way perfectly this time and it’s only a couple of minutes before we’re standing in front of a large wooden door marked “recovery room.” Terry knocks, we wait for someone to let us in, and six of us herd in behind him. Karen is on a bed off in the corner covered in a blanket and wearing some sort of scarf. I look closer. It isn’t a scarf. It’s a snuggly wrapped baby. Her baby!
Terry goes to the far side of the bed to stand beside his wife and child as my theater trained daughter announces, “Baby was born precisely at 3:00PM, weighs five pounds, ten ounces, is eighteen inches long, and is a” … drumroll please … “She.”
No longer an “it” but a she! A babe! A moll! A lassie! And a genuine beauty if I may say so myself.
We only have time to get in a quick peek at her before the nurse starts shooing us out of the room saying we’ll get to spend more time with baby and mom in about an hour.
As I’m leaving the room Karen calls out, “Dad.”
“Come back, please.”
I walk over to her bed and lean down. “Yes, honey?”
She whispers, “I watched your face when I told you about my baby.”
I smile. “I was crying.”
“I know.” And my baby cries as she squeezes my hand.
God bless you, my beautiful baby granddaughter, your Mommy, and your Daddy.