I know I should be watching the BCS Championship game, Ohio State's getting an ass-kicking of historic proportions and all; and I know I should be paying attention to the weather since we've got a Tornado Watch in effect here on a January 7 which, unbelievably, saw the temperature hit the mid-60's, but on this evening this is more important. You see, The Lauroo was today named "Student of the Week" at Power Middle School (PMS).
When so informed of this most momentous development after school today, first by her and subsequently in a personal phone call from none other than the principal himself, my reaction was what anyone who knows me--especially Laura, would expect it to be. I said to her, "What does this mean to The Dad?"
In mere moments though it occurred to me exactly what this meant to me and as soon as I came to that realization my face brightened. Beaming, I looked at Laura and exclaimed, "This makes me The Father of the Week!"
Laura found this disconcerting, asking, "What did you do, exactly?"
"Well," I said, "Quite literally for starters as far as you are concerned, I had sex with your mother."
"I'm sure I'll think of something."
I kid, of course. She knows I was kidding, too, so don't worry about that and don't think bad thoughts about me. Not any worse than the thoughts you usually think, anyway. The fact is that I could not have been prouder. Actually, the fact is that I could not be prouder of her whether she's "Student of the Week" or not. While my bias is as obvious as is the reason for it, I'm her father for crying out loud, I can tell you that I have never once had to worry about this one, save for the day she was born. And even then she was thoughtful enough to see to it that I only had to worry for half a day.
Laura was born early--a preemie. She weighed in six weeks early. Almost seven, in fact. This, as you might imagine, took Jeannie and me completely by surprise. We were very decidedly not yet ready for a baby. Hell, we still had two sessions left in our "So You're About To Be Parents For the First Time" class, the last of which involved a tour of the nursery and birthing areas of Beaumont Hospital.
What happened was that the baby doctor told us to proceed directly to Beaumont after examining Jeannie during a regularly scheduled visit when we still thought we had a month-and-a-half left to prepare for the arrival of our baby. She had developed a condition and, unless labor could be induced, they were going to have to go and get the baby straightaway.
Now, that worried me.
We spent the rest of the day in a hospital room waiting to see if those inducing drugs would in fact induce, having been told that if the baby wasn't born that night, a C-section would have to be performed first thing the next morning.
Early in the evening, one of those birthing classes we still needed to take to complete our parenting course came through the delivery area and I told Jeannie that with nothing better to do I may as well join them and off I went. The last stop was the nursery. I stood there looking at all those brand new babies and I had no emotion whatsoever and it scared me to death. I knew for a fact that I had a baby just like the ones I was looking at coming into my life the very next day and those babies in the nursery did nothing for me. Nothing at all. Was this how I was going to feel the next day? My blood ran cold. I was worried I'd made a huge mistake. Having a baby had been my idea, after all. I knew Jeannie had her worries, too. She'd ask me from time to time, "What if we don't like having a baby? It's not like we can give it back, you know!"
Other than making her feel like crap, the inducing drugs had no effect on Jeannie and the next morning they took her in for her emergency C-section, leaving me to wait in the hallway. I spent what seemed like the longest time sitting there in my scrubs contemplating what I felt was the distinct possibility that I could lose my wife and my baby in one fell swoop if things weren't going right in that operating room.
Finally, the nurse came to take me into the operating theatre, which I am pretty sure was an afterthought. I think they forgot about me, because by the time they came to get me the doctors were well along in the procedure. When I walked in and glanced over at my wife I saw what looked to me like a huge incision. I remember thinking, "My God, they are cutting her in half!" I'll never forget the speed with which the surgeon worked. I swear you could hear the knives clanking against one another. Honest to God, the closest thing I'd ever seen to it involved a spectacle I'd taken in one night at a restaurant in Peoria where a professional hockey player I knew cut up and ate a 60-ounce steak in under eleven minutes. Fast, man.
And so, within a minute of my sitting down next to Jeannie, they pulled Laura out. The surgeon held her aloft, like he was hoisting the Stanley Cup it seemed to me, and announced that we had a baby girl. The baby girl had what appeared to me to be a look of shocked surprise on her face. As in, "Just what in the hell do you people think you are doing?" And, "What's a people, anyway? I have no idea, you know. I've never seen one before." It was 11:04 in the morning and my life had changed forever.
Jeannie's reaction surprised me. "A daughter? I have a daughter?" I could tell she was happier than she would have been had we had a son. Which, by the way, is what we had been convinced we were going to have. For my part, I was surprised that I didn't seem to care if it was a boy or a girl. I was just happy, more than happy, with the baby we had. I mean, instantly happy.
A nurse took the baby off to the side and I could tell things weren't perfect. They were working her over pretty good. They let me hold her for about five seconds and show her to her mother and before she even got a decent look at her baby girl they'd snatched her right back from me and went right back to working on her.
"She's a little blueish," one of the nurses said. "She's not getting enough air." They give all newborns something called an APGAR test. I can't remember if that's an acronym or not, nor can I remember on what criteria they test the baby. I can't remember Laura's APGAR score but I remember asking and I remember being concerned when I was told that the number, which was on the scale of one-to-ten, was lower than the number should have been based on what we had learned in the Learning To Be A Parent class and the pre-birth reading and research I had done. Besides, truth be told, the baby did look a little on the purple side to me even if I didn't want to admit it.
Within a moments I found myself walking alongside a little gurney which was taking Laura off to Baby Intensive Care. They'd put a little tiny oxygen mask on her little tiny face. It looked like it was squishing her tiny little left eye. I felt bad for her (I don't think I thought of her as my daughter yet, not enough time had elapsed for that mental adjustment to take place) and asked the nurse to readjust the mask but she said it was the best they could do given her size. Laura had indeed weighed in, but she didn't weigh in much: only four pounds, two ounces. There was just not a lot of baby there.
They popped her into an incubator and I watched her sleep for a while and then went off in search of my wife. She was in post-op on a different floor drugged to the brink of incoherency and when I walked in I looked at her and I said, (and this is a direct quote): "OHMYGOD!SHE"SSOBEAUTIFULshelooksjustlikeyou!and shehasthecutestlittlehandsthatlookjustlikeyourhandsand theprettiestlittleeyesthatlookjustlikeyoureyesanddidImentionshe'sjustBEAUTIFULandarewestillgoingtonameherLauraanddidItell youthat'sshe'sjustBEAUTIFUL?"
Jeannie looked up at me like she had just learned that her husband was from freaking Mars. I didn't know at the time, but all I had done was convince her that something was terribly, terribly wrong with her baby daughter. She'd had, after all, never seen me in such a state. She'd never heard me talk so fast and mind you, I announced professional hockey games for a living and as such was trained to talk fast. But never, ever as fast as I was banging on then.
I left her and went off to find her mother in the waiting room. There were about ten people there and when I spotted her I told her, "You have a granddaughter!" and everybody else in the room burst into applause and you should have seen the look on Edith's face!
Then the oddest thing. I knew one of the people in the room. He was a PR guy for one of the teams I covered and I was still all excited and I started to tell him how great it was and how happy he was going to be and he had to stop me to tell me that he and his wife were there because their baby had died in the womb and they were there to have it removed and I just felt so bad and I just had no idea what to say.
There was one other odd thing. We lived only a couple of miles from the hospital, making it easy to run home on errands. I had gone to the house for something and when I was getting in the car to go back to the hospital for some reason, probably having something to do with the fact that I was pretty goofy that day, I left my wallet on the roof of the car as I drove off. That evening I got a call from a reporter at WWJ which was strange because I was working at WJR, a competing station. We were colleagues. He didn't want a quote for the news about our newborn, he wanted to tell me that he had found my wallet lying on Coolige Road. What are the odds on something like that?
Blissfully unaware my wallet was missing, I got back to the hospital around four o'clock, just in time for them to take the baby out of the incubator. I looked down at her and she was all pink and perfect and I just knew that that kid was as healthy as a horse. There was no doubt in my mind. I stopped worrying right then and there. Like I said, half a day, that's all I had to worry about my Laura. It's all I've ever had to worry about her. A nurse started to put an IV needle in her little forehead. I asked why. She told me it was for antibiotics. I told the nurse she didn't need them, that she was perfectly healthy. The nurse didn't much seem to care about my opinion for some reason and so Laura spent the first few days of her life with that needle stuck in her head. It's okay. She doesn't remember.
Over the course of the next few days I would pick her up and hold her tiny little self in my arms all the time and I would softly sing to her: "She's just a little woo baby girl, living in her little woo baby world. And she's doing little woo baby things..." I sang that song I'd made up on the spot to her over and over and over. I always thought additional verses would come to me, but they never did. And they never have. Not to this day. And I'm going to stop now because the memories are making me cry, I love her so much.
Except for this one little memory. Before one could enter that special care nursery where Laura spent the first ten days of her life, it was mandatory to wash your hands using a special soap and a special little scrubbing sponge with hard plastic bristles which were provided by the hospital. I was fanatical about it. If I saw somebody try to go into the nursery and I didn't think they'd spent the full 8 or 10 minutes washing, whichever the sign said was the required time to spend at the task, I'd call 'em on it and make 'em go back and wash their hands some more. I didn't care.
A day or so after Laura was born our pastor drove all the way over from Farmington to visit us at the hospital. I was sitting in a chair in the nursery rocking Laura (singing the Woo Baby song, no doubt) when I looked up and there he was. Before I even knew what the words were that were coming out of my mouth, I demanded of him, "Did you wash your hands?"
Like I said, I'm Father of the Week.