On the Birth of My Son, Percy

Percy on Thanksgiving. Age: One day.

My life expectancy is 78.74. If we follow the averages, Percy, we’ll have 40 years, 58 days and 4 hours together. That’s 40 Christmases. Thirty-nine birthdays.

Your mother called me the morning of your birth: “I think my water broke.”

She left a message with her doctor. Then, she decided it was an excellent time to drive to Kohl’s and pay off her charge card.

She was in the parking lot when the “trickle” turned into a “gush.”

“Thank God for long coats,” she said.

She fished around for towels and used Meijer’s shopping bags to put down on her seat.

She called me a second time: “My water definitely broke.”

I was already halfway to her parents: our designated meeting spot. I drove faster.

My first text message went to my mother.

There’s a lesson there: your mother’s importance never diminishes. Her love is unconditional, unquestioning. You’ll think of her whenever your life changes — for better or for worse.

“Hey mom, headed to the hospital,” I typed at 11:35 a.m. “I think Rachel’s water just broke!”

“Exciting times,” your grandpa said when I arrived.

Your mother was in the bathroom changing into drier pants. We loaded her in the SUV and drove to the hospital. No labor pains yet, just a tinge.

We were there by 1 p.m. Miami Valley, the same hospital where I was born. The hospital where your sister was born.

“We should be able to skip check-in,” I said. “We’ve been having babies here for generations.”

No such luck.

We checked in. We got admitted.

In our room, there was a white board. “Goal/plan for the day,” the nurses wrote, “have a baby.”

Like them, may you always write down your goals. It makes them real. It gives them strength.

Contractions were mild and infrequent, but they were there. Your mother immediately began bargaining for an epidural.

“Can I have it now?” she asked the nurse.

“We’re waiting on your blood work.”

“Can I have it now?”

“Can I have it now?”

“Can I have it now?”

I do not need to tell you this for you will know one day: if your mother wants something, she finds a way to get it. She uses every bargaining chip at her disposal. Example:

The nurse came in at 4: “The doctor would like to try a small amount Pitocin.”

That’s a drug that speeds up labor.

“I’ll make you a deal,” your mother said. “You get me the epidural, and I’ll take the Pitocin.”

“I’ll have to ask the doctor.”

A few minutes later, the nurse was back.

“The doctor said that would be ok.”

Your mother smiled. So did I.

May you get from your mother the power of negotiation.

Now, too, take this nugget of wisdom: whenever women get epidurals, they become quite pleasant. Do not fear the needle. Welcome it, for it brings with it peace.

One epidural later, your mother became quite pleasant. No more horsetrading. She even she let me broadcast part of her labor on Periscope. Over 300 people logged on, asked questions, suggested names for you. I showed the world the array of implements on the table. So many scissors. Why do they need so many? I’ve never seen so many in one place. There were enough to make a seamstress blush.

We had no idea of your gender.

Months earlier, an ultrasound tech wrote down your sex on a sheet of paper. She tucked it in an envelope. Your mother and I refused to look. But I showed it to a co-worker. Her name is Kellye. She wanted to knit you a blanket, and she swore she wouldn’t betray the secret.

She knit and knit and knit. Then, she wrapped the blanket up in a box labeled, DO NOT OPEN.

Kellye kept her promise. May you get from her the strength to always do the same.

During labor, the nurses had me hold one of your mother’s legs. I did as I was told, me with a front-row seat to the strangest most fantastic show on earth.

With every push, your mother closed her eyes and gritted so hard her body shook. Your tiny head poked further and further out. I imagined you in there, scared, smashed, curious, a tiny tenant getting evicted from the only home he’d ever known.

Sometimes, the world makes decisions for us. May you have the wisdom to accept those decisions. None of us can change them.

“One more push,” the doctor said.

“Chin down,” a nurse said.

Your mother tucked her chin and pushed as hard as she could. Out came your head.

“Let’s deliver this baby!” the doctor yelled. “Push again!”

Your shoulders, stomach, legs, everything came out at once, the great white cord dangling there, a reminder of the grand and mysterious act of creation — the passing of life from one creature to another.

You cried almost immediately. Sucking air at 9:02 p.m., Nov. 25. The night before Thanksgiving.

“You have a son,” someone said.

“A little boy.”

They laid you crying on your mother’s chest.

“Oh my goodness,” your mother said. “You’re beautiful. You’re beautiful. You’re beautiful.”

“He’s saying he’d like a little turkey,” the doctor said.

Moments later: “Do you want to cut the cord, dad?”

“Yeah.” I agreed even though I didn’t particularly want to (you’ll understand one day). They handed me the scissors and pointed.

There it was: that thick white line dangling precariously close to your pee-pee. I didn’t want to lop off something important. That would have made the papers.

But the cut was true, my hand steady. You were out and breathing on your own.

We wrapped you in Kellye’s blanket. It was blue.

We did not have a name for you. We had our lists. Percy was on both of them.

“It feels right,” your mother said the next morning.

I agreed.

Now, Percival is your full name. It means “Pierces the Valley,” and it was the name of King Arthur’s most faithful knight. He quested for the Grail. May you, too, have a quest of grand import. I know that you will. You are a Marion. You will not go gentle into that good night.

I shot video as we left the hospital. I asked your mom to give you life advice: “I want you to be happy,” she said into the camera, “and good.”

What better advice is there?

Be happy.

Be good.

May you get from your mother her wisdom.

I know you will get her love. You have it already.

May you learn from the mistakes of your father. There have been many, and there are more to come, but every year, they’re fewer. And every year the joy is deeper.

The mystery deepens. Once more, I see life through the eyes of a child. And I’ll see it again through you.

Forty Christmases.

Thirty-nine birthdays.

Two parents. Much love.

Welcome to the world, son.

May you enjoy the journey.