That Little Asshole Goat

Dear Tessa,

This afternoon I took you to your very first trip to Butterfield Acres, a nearby petting zoo/working farm that I’ve heard friends with children talk about for years but never looked into till last week. This summer I want us to get out more, so I’ve started taking you for full days instead of your usual morning at dayhome and afternoon with me (which you’d usually spend most of the time napping anyway). The aim was for us to go out and have little adventures. Go to the science center, the zoo…Butterfield Acres.

You did not enjoy your first trip to Butterfield Acres, and to be honest, despite all of my high-minded thinking behind taking you I’ve been trying all morning to figure a way out of it. It’s hot out and your overweight dad is not a fan of the heat. A large sweaty man does not a good image around countless children make, even if he has one of his own in tow. And it’s a new place, and occasionally I have problems with new places that I only figure out a few hours before I actually have to show up.

But damn it, I wanted us to go. For you, mostly. Even if you didn’t have a good time, it would be a beginning to build on. A new experience. That has to be good, doesn’t it? The final decision is out on that one, but it was a new experience.

You do not care for farm animals at the moment. I’m sure it’s an age thing, as all the other children – some half a year older than you, others several years older – had no issue. You’d discover them almost by accident walking through the park, realizing sometimes a little too late that you were closer than you’d like. You’d back away very slowly, all the while saying ‘no’ in a very calm, but determined way. Not a ‘No! Get that peacock away from me’. More like a, ‘No, I am not going to engage in this situation right now thank you very much.’

I tried to push the issue a couple of times, picking you up so you could pet the horses (almost wrote horsies there but you just turned your head, buried it into my shoulder and repeated your little ‘no’ mantra. Except for a two incidents, this was your whole first experience with Butterfield Acres. You stayed apart from the larger groups of older kids running by in packs like I’ve seen you do at dayhome. You’re not sure if you want to join in and even less sure about how to do it even if you wanted to. You’re thinking it through, though, that’s for certain.

So these incidents:

The first bad incident is when you were surprised by the miniature horses (that’s little horsies, to you). They were about your height and not moving by the fence so you didn’t notice them until you were really close and they brayed quite loudly. You backed up into a fence filled with turkeys that started to shriek and between a turkey and a little horsie well…there were some tears. I picked you up and we went to go play with some sand and trucks.

The second bad incident was a reoccurring encounter with one of the smaller goats (kids?) walking around the farm. It took a liking to you while you were backing up and away from the flock (?) of sheep panting away in the summer heat. It approached you and you didn’t see it at first, which was probably what added to the shock when you finally turned around and it was right there. You shook your arms as if they were miniature wings that would take you out of the situation and began to run…properly run away in a fashion that resembled someone running away from a madman with a knife. That little asshole goat, who really wasn’t such a bad kid, followed you perplexed, and you continued in your run, pumping your arms like a champ and occasionally throwing a look back to make sure, yes, that little bastard was running (walking, really) you down.

So yeah, tears and a lot of no. Not the greatest first trip. I was a little dismayed until on the way back when we were passing the infamous horsie/turkey combo  I heard a woman talking on her cellphone while her daughter was petting an emu. The woman was telling the person on the other end that this time was better than six months ago, that it was like two different kids. And you know what, that’s probably what it’s going to be like with you.
Regardless, we’re going to keep going on these day trips this summer. They should have started more consistently a long time ago, but at least we’re doing them now.

Love,

Dad

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A (Collective Noun) of Drouillards

So it’s 2012. Where are we at?

December was a crazy month. Your grandmother on your mother’s side, Annette, flew over mid-November to help us out with the day-to-day operation of being parents but in the last two weeks of the year she was joined by the rest of the family: her husband (your grandfather) Norman, and their two sons, Michael and Matthew (your uncles). The house got a bit crowded all of a sudden but in a good way. Pretty soon people were fighting over who got to hold you or rock you to sleep. The fights died off when it was time to change you, of course, but you can’t hold that against them.

The weather has been surprisingly warm this holiday season. Not sure why I mention that, other than that it’s unusual and made the trip easier simply because having –20 or worse outside generally doesn’t make life better for anyone. We spent Christmas with my parents and you received quite a few wonderful presents in the form of tree ornaments, toys and some very special books with touching inscriptions from both sides of the family.

The thing that struck me most about the trip was how loved you were by everyone on both sides of the family and the friends we introduced you to. I didn’t expect that. We don’t have a lot of young children in our family and out of my close friends I’m the first to become a parent. This was my first time seeing it…although is that even true? I have seen it before, this kind of love, but for some reason it was surprising and heart warming to see it happen so close to home.

Your grandfather Norman in particular was quite taken with you. There were plenty of early mornings when he would pace with you back and forth through the living room until you fell asleep on his chest and then he would settle with you in the rocking chair. You won’t remember this by the time you are able to read this letter but I will, and I want you to know how very much loved and wanted you are. Don’t believe me? Here’s a picture:

The holiday was like a magic trick that way. Lots of movement and lots of sound. With everyone in the house like that it was simultaneously like being back stage and front and center. And then one year passed into the next and in the early morning hours of January 1st your mother’s family left to get on a plane. I watched as your uncles, your grandparents, passed you between them, saying their goodbyes, kissing your cheeks and the top of your head. There were tears, of course. That’s just something that happens in this family, but they were the good kind. And then, as quickly as they had arrived, the holidays were over and it was just the three of us again. The dogs, equally mystified, have been wandering around the house looking for the visitors, wondering where they’ve gone and when they’re coming back.

Postscript: Just in case you’re wondering about your festive get-up in that picture, apparently it is the same set of clothes that your mother and her brothers were brought into the hospital in when they were little. You looked very cute and old timey if I do say so myself.

Love,

Dad

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Second Childhoods, The Count of Monte Cristo and the Theme Song from Cadence

You are six weeks old today and currently sleeping in the playpen on the main floor while your mother and grandmother sleep upstairs. I get up early, mostly for work, so when I’m on days off I keep the schedule and give your mother a few extra hours of uninterrupted sleep while we hang out downstairs. This entails a lot of pacing, the occasional howling fit, and me rocking you back and forth and singing Happy Together and the theme song from Cadence (I get some dancing in with that last one and it tends to quiet you down when you’re upset, so we keep it in steady rotation).

I meant to write earlier and more frequently. I had imagined parenthood and watching you grow would be a steady progression -a one foot after the other- and that I would blog it that way.  Step by step. The highs would be there and the lows would be comical to read. Didn’t turn out that way. Like most things, any assumptions I made about parenthood have been demolished since you’ve been born, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing it hasn’t always been easy.

Let’s start this letter off with something pleasant, though: It feels as though you’ve been here forever. Tessa, you’re going to meet people in your life who, when you see them, you’re going to feel like you’ve known them forever, that they were always there but just around the corner. In the same way as your mother, I feel like you’ve been with me forever. Separating the time before you and after you doesn’t really work. There was always you. You were always here. So I never get that feeling of surprise that I imagined, the ‘Oh my God, I have a baby’ feeling. Doesn’t make sense, but there it is. It’s a good feeling.

Television and films feed a lot of my expectations of what being a father should be like. Maybe that’s common, maybe I’m just strange, but I thought when you were born I would be overwhelmed with a sense of love for you that would manifest in a positive warm fuzzy kind of way. I thought I would have this new appreciation of everything and that somehow it would make me calmer, more mature. I could let go of the unimportant crap that I’ve been carrying around for so long. In this I turned out to be half right, because I was overwhelmed with love, but not in a way that was particularly comfortable.

In reality I was really quite frightened. I thought about writing you a letter then, but I think I made the right choice in getting some distance between those feelings and putting something down on paper now. There was a whole week where I existed in this perpetual state of being half-angry, half-scared, as my brain spooled out all the potential problems and threats and dangers that you might face in your life. And I felt helpless to stop it. You were, and still are, incredibly small. I can hold you in one hand and I know that the world is largely indifferent to your existence. And that’s scary. Very scary. It took a week of that before I could calm down enough to get a handle on the surge of emotions and process them properly.

Parenthood is like a second childhood in a way. All the issues you didn’t deal with when you were younger come right back to you with your child, so when I look at you I find myself thinking about how to avoid the bullying I went through in school, the weight issues I’m still wrestling with, the lack of self-discipline. You don’t know this yet, but you and I have conversations everyday. When I’m driving to work, when I’m alone in a room, when I’m pacing with you in the wee hours of the morning. I’m practicing conversations with you for when you’re older. Conversations about the big questions, the little questions, the questions that don’t have solid answers. I’m talking you through your problems. I’m talking me through mine.

I want so much for you, and the rawness of that want surprised me. It is a want I can’t really explain. It gets in my head and into my chest and some things I thought were important aren’t important anymore. You’re important. This family is important. And on top of all of that there’s the urgent need to get all my shit together as quickly as possible. That’s a daily message, flashing in bright lights. It’s how I order my day, or at least try to.

None of this you are aware of, or if you are you’re keeping it pretty close to the chest. For the most part the last six weeks have had you on automatic pilot. You are figuring out your body. Your arms and legs kick and flail without any real purpose. You cry when you’re hungry, when you need changed or when you need held. You have (and I am absolutely biased) the most beautiful little face I ever did see. But I am careful to not read too much into what you do at this point. You’ve been born, yes, but you’re still coming alive. Climbing out of yourself. Figuring out how all the systems work.

To illustrate where we both are at the moment I’ll end with this image: We’re a few weeks in and your grandmother hasn’t arrived yet. It’s just the three of us in the house plus the dogs. Your mother is in bed and I’m taking care of you in the early morning. It’s dark outside and you’ve been sleeping for a while. You start fussing about in your crib and I walk over. You are still asleep but wrestling around in your swaddling blanket, grunting and shifting in a way that looks like you are trying to get free. And I am transfixed. It brings to mind, of all things, The Count of Monte Cristo, and with that thought I think about how you, the woman you are to become one day, is locked away in that brain of yours and it will take decades for you to fully come out. It will be a struggle and you will learn things during your long and great escape, but one day you will emerge from your efforts a free woman with a treasure map to riches and a great wide world. It’s a beautiful thought and it makes me smile down at you just to think it. You are my beautiful daughter, I think, and I love you. You keep struggling. Keep growing. I’m here. I’m-

And then you let out the loudest, longest fart of your whole entire life.

Let’s just say we’re experiencing this you-being-alive thing in two very different ways.

Love,

Dad

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Significant Details

I meant to do this sooner, but since you were born the days and nights have been a bit of a blur. In conversation I’ll reference something as if it just happened to find out it was a couple of days before. So between this jumble of memory and the fact that today marks your first week with us, I thought it would be a good place to start with these letters by writing out what I remember about your birth. Hopefully by the time you’re old enough to read this I’ll have stumbled across the trick of consistency with my writing output, but for this moment, even though my best intentions are to keep up with these letters, I’m not sure how well I’ll do. I almost didn’t write today, and even though I’m exhausted and in desperate need of a nap myself (you and your mother are currently passed out upstairs) I know that if I don’t start these letters today the time might slip away completely.

So here goes.

You started your arrival early morning Sunday the 23rd. Your mother woke me up just shortly after her water had broken and we decided to go into the hospital, even though steady contractions hadn’t come yet. As we drove through the empty midnight streets we joked back and forth about still not having a name for you and that even though we were making the trip we knew we’d be sent home again until your mother was further along. The parking lot at the Foothills was empty. It’s about the only time of day it’s ever that quiet, so we got a decent spot. We walked in through Emergency and as we were heading down the corridor towards the elevators I turned around and saw a tall, handsome  guy dressed up as Thor prowling the waiting area. Red cape, breastplate and all. He cut a dashing figure, and it made me relax knowing that the God of Thunder was nearby in case we needed him. Fun fact: your mother still does not believe this actually happened.

Once upstairs we got the reception we expected. Professional but not too concerned. Contractions hadn’t started yet and you were still a long way off. When your mother went to the bathroom she was discreetly asked by the nurse there if she was in an abusive relationship. She came back joking about it, because there’s nothing farther from the truth, but it made me ask another nurse later on how common it was. It’s not, as it turns out, but it’s a sad statistical reality that a woman is most likely to be abused by her partner when she’s at her most vulnerable while pregnant. I’m not sure why I mention this. It sticks out in my mind as a sobering detail, even though it didn’t have any bearing on what we were going through.

We were sent home, like I said, and told to come back in twelve hours. We went home. We slept. We ate. My parents came over to pick up the dogs and we had a little sit down before we left for the hospital. It didn’t strike me that when I came back I’d be coming back as a father. You’d think it would have, but it didn’t. I was excited. We were still joking around about names, going through a list of potentials, trying a few out. We still referred to you as little baby No-Name.

Once we arrived back at the Foothills (now in the afternoon, so the parking spaces were nowhere near as choice) we were admitted into a proper delivery room with an amazing view of the city. Fall doesn’t last long in Calgary. It seems the leaves are yellow, red and brown for a week or two before they’re all blown down and the branches stick out skeletal towards the sky. They hadn’t fallen yet when you were born. The view was breathtaking and I ended up getting some good pictures. The sky was clear and the temperature was warm. There was a cleanness about the space.

You were induced, which was not the way we had hoped you’d arrived. We had a plan. We’d made a wish list. And while practically nothing in the delivery went according to plan I still feel it went well. You were never in any level of distress that seemed dangerous (at least as it was communicated to me), and while the delivery was painful and difficult for your mother, nothing ever felt as life-threatening as I was afraid it would be. But yes, you were induced, which meant we ended up electing for pain medication, which in turn led to intervention in the last few, critical moments.

I want to take a moment to talk about your nurses. Over the course of the night you had about four or five of them, and all of them were professional and excellent at their jobs. Seriously, I could not have asked for better care for you and your mother. They made us feel at ease and well taken care of, and if I were recommending places for children to be born, I couldn’t give the Foothills a higher recommendation. I also want to mention that your grandmother, my mother, was there with us almost every step of the way, and that also was a great choice. Having been a nurse, she was a great mediator between Tara, myself and the medical professionals. She understood the culture and was calm throughout.

I was also calm throughout, which is not what I was expecting. I was expecting fear, to be honest. A lot of it. But it takes a long time, the delivery process, and fear doesn’t do well in tests of endurance. Fear has poor stamina. It’s a sprinter. But however well I may have behaved during your delivery, the grand prize will always go to your mother. She was amazing. There’s no other way to describe it. In a situation where she had thought she would curse and potentially buckle, she rose to every challenge. If a nurse suggested a different position that might be more painful but more beneficial to your delivery, she took it. She went the distance in a very real way, and having known her for a good number of years now I can safely say I’ve never been more proud. She made a difficult process look easy. You couldn’t have asked for better.

Finally we came to the end. I’m not going to go into too much detail. We can talk about this when you’re older. Some intervention was necessary and all of a sudden everything moved really fast. The pain went from manageable to unbearable and the last five minutes, that last dash, was terrifying. Your mother was scared. She was tired and scared and the last five minutes were so painful that it broke me just watching it. I held onto her, I supported her with the other nurses, the doctor, my own mother, and I tried in my own futile way to make it easier for her and you.

And then you arrived. Despite charting your progress through the nine months of pregnancy, listening to your heartbeat, watching your movements on the monitor, you did not become real to me until I saw you. I didn’t think I was going to watch, but I did, and I’m so glad that I chose to. After feeling the need to sleep creep up on me during those final hours, I woke up in a second. I was crying, probably shaking. And you were here. Shortly thereafter, your mother and I were holding you.

I thought when I began writing this first letter I would go on to talk about your first week, that somehow I could get your birth out in fewer words maybe. But the rest can wait. If I wait too long before publishing this, I’ll go back and tinker too much and you’ll never see it. I’m sure I’ve missed something. Maybe I’ll remember later. The important beats are there. The significant details.

Actually, wait. There’s two more.

The first: after getting you and your mother settled in the postpartum wing, I had to drive home and get some sleep of my own. The adrenaline of watching you being born was wearing off and I was crashing fast. I needed to sleep but I needed to drive safely home. It was a struggle, but I managed it. On the way home an odd thought struck me. I’m not sure if it was the first inklings of what it’s like to be a father (one week in and I’m still not sure I feel like one), but it stuck out and continues to do so in my memory.

You may discover as you grow up, that I have this underlying belief that things should be fair somehow. Hopefully you never notice this. Hopefully I do not pass it along. It’s a remnant from childhood and has done a lot to add to my discomfort over the years. But driving back from the hospital I realized in a very real way that the world was not fair, and that the world’s opinion towards you, that little baby you, was utter indifference. Not hostile, just indifferent. And that the only ones who were ever going to fight for you, to help you, were going to be us. Family. That this was the job now. That very little else could be depended on. That, like Carl Sagan says in his Pale Blue Dot speech, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us…like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand.

Which is a downer, to be sure, but it rattled me. The night sky was clear above me and I could see all the stars. I thought about this, about what it meant for me, your mother. What it demanded of us. And while a part of me is not sure I can do this, the better part, the greater part, is going to do his very best to be the help to you that cannot come from elsewhere.

And the second: that bit of business about your name. If you had been a boy we would have had a name for you picked out months ago. It’s still there. Solid. Built to last. But a girl’s name, for us, was trickier. How was it decided? In the middle of things, as it happens. During the delivery. Your mother was going through contractions and I asked about the name and she told me. Tessa Simone. Tessa, because we like it, and Simone, because it was the name of one of her grandmothers. And I found myself unable to argue. That was your name. Being male and going into a delivery room populated solely by women is a strange feeling. It very much feels like intruding. I did my best, but there were things going on that I felt that, no matter how hard I tried, I’d never be a part of. The nurses were, you were, your mother was (hell, even my mother was), but I had to stand a little apart from. And out of that wash of emotions and experiences and connections that I couldn’t firmly understand came your name. A day after you were born your mother thanked me for letting me name you that, which seemed a strange thing to do. It was your name. Like you, it came out of that room. There was nothing I was going to do to change it.

And with that, I’ll pull this first letter (of many, I hope) to a close. You’ve been with us for a week but it feels like you’ve always been here. Your current favorite activities are eating, sleeping and farting. You are really good at farting, as it turns out, which proves to me that you’re more my side than your mother’s. Let’s see if we can keep these letters going, shall we?

Love,

Dad

p.s. Here’s my favorite picture of you with your mother, taking in your very first week.

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