A year ago yesterday, Linette and I we welcomed our son Arlo into the world. Like his sister, once he made up his mind that he wanted to join us, he came shooting down the birth canal like a rocket. I think I must have mentioned it here before, but, eight years ago, when Linette was pregnant with Clementine, we barely made it to the hospital in time. And, as second babies usually come faster, we thought that we’d plan on having this one at home, with a midwife. Some members of my family were a little apprehensive, but we’d done our homework, and, given how incredibly well Clementine’s birth had gone, we didn’t seem to think that there was much risk. So, we rented an inflatable pool, which we put in our living room, just a few feet from where I’m now typing this, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Here’s what the little guy looked like a few minutes after coming out.
Our midwives, who were delayed a bit due to unforeseen transportation issues, arrived at a little after 1:00 AM on the morning of December 2. And, within nine minutes of their arrival, we were holding the baby. I can’t remember the exact series of events. I remember making a lot of trips to the stove, where I was heating up water for the pool. And I remember making a few calls to the midwives, trading status updates. At some point before the baby was born, I ran upstairs and woke Clementine, telling her that, if she wanted to, she could join us for the big event. She wasn’t sure at first, but she eventually came down and stood at my side, at the end of the pool, waiting for her sibling to emerge. It all happened really quickly once Linette stepped into the pool. With one exception, everything went without a hitch. As the baby was about half-way into the world, the midwife told me help make sure that the baby’s head didn’t come above the surface of the water. Apparently babies are fine as long as they’re underwater, but, as soon as they break the surface, they need to remain out, as they instinctively begin to inhale once they feel air on their skin. So, the last thing you want to do, if you’re at home, planning to have an unassisted water birth tonight, is to come out of the water between pushes, when the baby is half-way out, as it could result in drowning. Fortunately, though, we were able to keep all the action below the surface of the water, and, a few seconds later, he kind of shot out into my hands.
If I’m not mistaken, it was Clementine who informed us that we’d had a son, having had the presence of mind to check for a penis.
We all smiled at him, introduced ourselves, and covered him in blankets. And that’s when the midwife, having begun her paperwork, asked us what his name was. We’d had a girl’s name that we’d both liked – Violet – but we still hadn’t come to consensus on a boy’s name. I had been advocating for Powell. (I also liked Sullivan, although I didn’t like the idea that people could refer to him as “Sully”.) Linette had liked Arlo. And, when the midwife asked us, I said “go ahead,” and she made it official. She liked Arlo, she said, because she was fed up with names that sounded as if they had trust funds attached to them. And she thought that he would be “cute enough to pull it off.” My main objection to Arlo stemmed from the fact that I knew people would think that we’d named him after
Speaking of what Arlo will be when he grows up, a friend of ours who teaches first and second grade asked us to bring the baby to her class a few days ago. They’d been studying Chinese culture, and apparently there’s something that people in that country used to do upon the first birthday of a baby. They’d lay a number of objects in front of the baby, with each representing a specific career, and then they’d see which one the baby went for. If the baby, for instance, picked up a shoe, he could be a cobbler. So, these kids all brought things from home to tempt my baby with. There were about twenty things laid out on a blanket, including a caligrapher’s pen, a piece of chalk, a paintbrush, a small jewel, a doctor’s coat, a picture of the president, a toy car, and a test tube. As I held Arlo above it, surveying the choices, it occurred to me that it was more a test for me than for him, as I could choose to set him down anywhere. So, I positioned myself as far away as possible from the caligrapher’s pen… because, really, what kind of career is that… and let him go, hoping that he wouldn’t just immediately dive for the shiniest object, thereby setting in motion a chain of events that would see him in a career selling costume jewelry from a cardboard box on a Manhattan street corner. As it turned out, I didn’t have to intervene, and shove something into his hand. After a little thought, he picked up the test tube, which, according to the kids in the class, means that he’ll be a scientist. And, after the test tube, he then went for a frog puppet, which, they tell me, means that he’ll do some puppeteering on the side.
Here he is at a few months old, in a photo taken by our friend Leisa Thompson. (The hideous crone hand is mine.)
While birth was easy, pregnancy wasn’t. The seven years separating Clementine and Arlo were full of miscarriages. Eventually it all worked out. Linette attributes it to acupuncture, and that fact that we started going to bed early, so that we could watch episodes of Friday Night Lights on Netflix.
As for what Arlo is like today, he’s both physically strong and strong willed. I remember being struck, just after his birth, that he could already lift his head and turn it. He’s always had incredible strength, not just of muscle, but will. He knows what he likes, and god help you if you want to take something from him that he doesn’t want to give up. He’s got a vice-like grip, and he can snatch the glasses off your face before the first neuron fires in your brain telling you to implement evasive counter-measures. I have little doubt that, if he wanted to, he could tear my face off faster than a drunken baboon.
I’d like to comment on his intellect, but, to be honest, he hasn’t shown me much so far. As of today, he knows how to say “ball,” “bye,” and “balloon.” According to Linette, he can say “mama” but chooses not to. And he knows to wave when someone puts on their jacket. Other than that, and being incredibly cute, and as strong as an ox, he’s probably just like any other one year-old. His grandparents hate it when say that, but it’s true.
He doesn’t like to sit still. He’s always moving from one experience to the next. Whereas Clementine would be happy as a baby to just curl up like a cat on my belly, as I watched episodes of Columbo, Arlo can’t lay still for longer than minute. When he’s not latched onto a breast, he’s compelled to move. In the early months, I would have to pace around with him for hours on end. Nothing else would make him happy. The songs that Clementine used to love do absolutely nothing for him. And books are repeatedly smacked out of my hands. I try to tell myself that all little boys are like this, but I fear that, in a few more years I might have to give up any pretense that I’m in charge, and just slink off into a closet somewhere. Every once in a while, I catch a glimpse of something that gives me hope that he won’t be like this forever, though. I’ll catch him looking thoughtfully at something for a moment, for instance, before he launches it across the room with a bloodcurdling scream. As he’s only one, I’m reluctant to make any snap judgements, but, based on what I’ve seen so far, it’s certainly possible that, like it or not, I’ll be engaged in some form of extreme parenting. I have visions of myself chasing him through perilous construction sites, and being beaten nearly to death playing football in our back yard. Ribs, at the very least, will be broken. I know that much.
This is what Arlo looked like this summer, when he was about eight months old. (The tintype was taken at Photobooth SF.)
I’m feeling my age.
For a good deal of my father’s life, he was raised by his grandparents, on their small, Kentucky farm. I remember, as a kid, being struck how odd that must have been, being raised by an old man. Well, a few days ago, as I was struggling to lift my son, it occurred to me that I’m probably older than my great-grandfather was when my father was born. I’m also older right now than my dad was when I moved out of the house, at the age of 18.
There’s a lot to be said for waiting to have children. I’d like to think that I’m smarter, more reflective, and more thoughtful than I was twenty years ago. I don’t know, however, that the trade-off is worth it. While I can certainly do things for him now that I couldn’t do at 20, like afford to take him on a whirlwind tour of New York’s museums, I don’t know that I’ll me in any condition to go on long hiking trips with him, like my dad did with me. Or, for that matter, even give him a piggyback ride without wincing.
And, finally, here’s what the little guy looks like today.
In conclusion, I’m a very lucky man, even with the OCD, the bad back, and the sleepless nights. I’m not good at much, but apparently I make lovely, delightful children… Here’s hoping they continue on to be productive, happy, relatively well-adjusted adults.
Oh, and I don’t know that it’s any of your business, but we also decided against male genital mutilation. I’ve heard from some people that this is a bad thing, as our penises “won’t match,” and, as a result, he may be suffer confusion, anxiety, or worse. Personally, I don’t imagine that he’ll care one bit, but, if he does, I suspect that, after I explain to him what circumcision entails, he’ll be OK with the fact that our penises don’t match. And, for what it’s worth, I don’t imagine we’ll be spending a lot of time comparing penises, as we have books to read, old movies to watch, and other forms of entertainment.
Also, I don’t know that it matters to people, but, according to one of our midwives, Arlo had a heart-shaped placenta. They said that it was beautiful…