There will now be a dividing line in my life of lasts and firsts.
The last time we ate out at a restaurant: Maki and Ramen, on Leith Street. We sat in the corner table, and I got the Hell Ramen, and then we walked home and I drank some wine and we waited.
The last time I swam. It was Friday morning and I swam for 31:28, completely cut off from the world and its distractions by the limitations of my lane, and I drank a full litre of water out of my Case Western Reserve University Nalgene bottle before pushing up out of the pool with both hands. I remember looking down at my flip flops as I slipped them on, red and black against the concrete grey, and I waved at the lifeguard and walked to the showers, my life still the same as before.
The last cup of coffee I had, an Aeropress of Taylor’s Lazy Sunday out of a Starbucks mug at work. I used coffee from the antique blue Ball Mason jar that I keep there for emergencies, and which is now sitting in the bottom drawer of my desk, with the Aeropress and a used filter and some papers from a conference I went to last month.
The last time we walked up the stairs to the flat. We went for a walk in the gardens outside, slowly, and Alice had to stop three times because of the pain. We made it to the very end of the gardens, though, and back, and climbed the stairs slowly, every step feeling significant, and when we got back to the flat, we turned the heating up and watched half of an episode of Game of Thrones before we started making phone calls.
And then Daniel Clay Samtoy.
There was the first time I saw him: it was a home birth, and we stayed in the bedroom, and Alice was squatting just past midnight as the midwives told her to focus on pushing. I was holding her arms, and his head was out, and then suddenly Wendy was easing a baby to the floor. His cord was wrapped twice around his neck, and he wasn’t moving, and I kept saying, “Is he ok? Is he ok?” They had already called an ambulance, and then suddenly he jerked, and started crying, and they cut the cord and brought him to a changing mat we’d set up, and a canister of oxygen was placed near his face. He kept crying, and I kept jumping from him to Alice, and nobody seemed concerned but me. But I can remember being so scared when he didn’t move and didn’t cry. The thought of it still makes me cry.
The first time I was holding him bare-chested, for skin-on-skin, and his little hands grabbed at my nipples. They don’t tell you about how baby nails are like razors, sharp, and how they move together in waves, and I must have shouted in pain, because Alice ran in to see what was wrong. “Someone would pay a lot of money for this sort of thing, but not me,” I said.
The first time I walked down the stairs, to…well, now I can’t remember. Did I go to the grocery store? The post office? The gym? I can’t remember; I only remember that it was so sad, thinking of leaving him, but also leaving Alice alone, and probably scared. I kept checking my phone in case she called in a panic, and maybe I had missed the call, and then when I got back she was sitting up in bed, he was sleeping on her chest, and she looked so happy.
The first diaper I changed, all by myself, with him screaming the whole time, then getting very quiet, almost meditative, going from sixty to zero in a snap. Then, five minutes later, he was back on the mat again, and I almost didn’t bother telling Alice about it except she needed to update the app that tracks when he eats or excretes.
The first visitors we had: Marcello and Catherine, our neighbours, and their daughters Nina and Lara. They took turns holding him, and he promptly fell asleep on Catherine, and I thought: this is how we want him to be. Comfortable around others. I want him to feel like people are his friends, that he can get along with anyone, and I want to be social myself, not just for me but to help him have a good network to learn how to deal with people. And when they left, I started thinking about how we could have more people over.
I read that the more different words babies hear, the larger their vocabularies can be later on in life, so I vowed to read all of Shakespeare (20,000+ distinct words) and all of Ulysses (30,000 distinct words) to him by the time he is 18 months old. More than the vocabulary, though, I hope that he develops an appreciation for the musicality of the language, the rhythm, the beauty. So in the first eight days of his life, we read every word of Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, and three of the 48 Laws of Power together, and a section of Good Strategy/Bad Strategy. Judging by his reactions of either smacking his lips together or sleeping soundly, he has a taste for politics, and Shakespeare soothes his soul. He can’t understand it now, but maybe in twenty years, in a college course, he’ll read,
“Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester—
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd – ”
And I will remember this post, and send it to him – to you, Daniel, if you’re reading this – and you’ll ask me about your first week, and I’ll remember it with so many advantages, with so much joy, with so much love. Maybe we’ll have a drink together, and you can ask me anything you want, and I’ll tell you what I remember, but do not trust me then, because I’ll be an old man.
This new marking of time isn’t important for him, he only knows feedings and diaper changes and involuntary spasms of his (already well-formed, the midwives comment on it) muscles. But it’s important for us, because it becomes almost a way to slow down, to think, to learn, to take a pause. So I’m in the kitchen, my laptop on the counter, and Daniel is in a sling; he didn’t sleep much last night, and Alice didn’t sleep much either, so she’s taking a nap. He is, too, breathing heavily against my chest, his little frog legs wrapped around my belly. And now he’s letting out cries, and pressing his lips against my chest, and I’m rocking and stroking him between typed sentences, trying to calm him down, trying to give Alice just a few more minutes of rest.
And Daniel, if you’re reading this in some far-off future that I can’t imagine but is the only one you know, I’ve always loved you with all my heart.