“Even the words that we are speaking now, thieving time has stolen away, and nothing can return” — Carlo Rovelli
“Such is the passage of time too fast to fold” — Eddie Vedder’s “Rise”
“It’s too late to turn back now, I believe, I believe, I believe I’m falling in love.” — The Cornelius Brothers
When a baby is born, you measure their life in days. After twenty-something days, the days become too numerous, and you move to weeks. After fifteen or so weeks, you move to months. Our baby is now 23 months old, and I’m sensing that soon we will move to the next temporal measurement unit, years.
I am writing this in a futile attempt to just take a pause.
My child is in the middle of his midday nap and I actually have a moment to sit at my dining room table, stare out at the blue Pacific Ocean, and write. It’s a Sunday.
In the incessant, exhausting first stage of fatherhood, I want to to savor this fleeting moment of reflection that will end the second my boy wakes up. You see, as a relatively new dad, time — for me — is now measured between naps; the 1–3 hours in which our son is in his crib; cooing, cackling, singing, sleeping, and growing. I am on the clock now, listening to him serenade himself with a rendition of “Yellow Submarine” on the baby monitor.
Physicists tell us that time moves slower by the ocean than on top of a mountain. That may be true. However, this split second difference will hardly be enough time to help me finish this piece before my son’s nap ends. This will take me a few Sundays to complete. Time is indeed very different now.
I, too, am different.
The last 712 days have been the most draining, daunting, and joyous days of my life. I slept far less, laughed far more, played more enthusiastically, and loved more deeply than I can ever remember. My transition to fatherhood was not like any other change I’ve experienced. It was fundamental — and fast. It felt less like a new chapter than an entirely new book, less like a software upgrade and more like a new operating system. One minute, I’m a dude. The next minute, I’m a dad. My core being, my purpose, my focus, my title — all of it — changed in a single moment.
A doctor, midwife, two nurses, a doula, two mothers, a sister, a couple medical students, and I (11 people total) witnessed my heroic wife Dana push out our son at 10:04pm on a clear, chilly night in late January 2017 in UCSF hospital in San Francisco. For the prior 49 hours my wife was in labor. I was focused on helping in any way possible, which mainly meant filling baths, massaging shoulders, and offering words of encouragement. I wore my old Kibbutz work uniform, a drab, navy blue sweatsuit to remind myself that I was not a spectator — I was on the job. It’s called “labor” after all.
Little did I know that most of labor is actually kind of slow and boring — for me at least. The actual pushing part was only the last hour or so — when suddenly the energy in the room shifted. It seemed like the entire Sunday evening faculty of UCSF had suddenly joined us in the delivery room. While my wife was getting mentally prepared to push, we placed bets on whether it was going to be a boy or a girl. 6 picked boy, 5 picked girl. Finally, it was go-time. The midwife told me to be the “pushing time-keeper”. I counted the only way I know how to count seconds accurately, “1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi, 4, Mississippi, 5 Mississippi, 6 Mississippi, 7, Mississippi, 8 Mississippi, 9 Mississippi, PUSH!!!”
After about 5 sets of Mississippi’s, our baby’s warm and slimy body slipped out of my wife’s body and into my hands. It felt completely surreal. His/her skin’s texture felt more amphibian than human. He/she finally let out a deep, long winded cry. I felt a rush of ecstasy and blood flow through my body. I was in love. Moments later, I handed the baby off to the midwife. She flipped him over and said, “It’s a boy!” I had forgotten to check.
On Day 3 of our son’s life, we drove out of the hospital for the first time as parents. My wife and I were both in a dreamlike state. Trying to snap us out of it, I put on the soundtrack we listened to for comfort following Donald Trump’s inauguration. In the course of labor I recalled joking to the midwife Kate that maybe she will be delivering a future President of the United States. “God Forbid, ” was her reply.
Eddie Vedder’s ukulele album “Into the Wild” felt appropriate for my son’s first car ride on planet Earth. Dana and I simultaneously looked back at our shiny, black new Britax car seat we never really imagined would contain an actual infant. And sure enough he was there, brown eyes wide open, taking it all in. Our then unnamed baby was inside a car seat, inside a Subaru Forrester vehicle, listening to the song “Rise” on Spotify with his brand new ears.
“Such is the way of the world.
You can never know
Just where to put all your faith
And how will it grow”
We burst into tears, overwhelmed by happiness, from the relief that we were all healthy, and from disbelief — — that this new person, this new consciousness that never ever before existed, was real, and ours. He is now our son. We are now his parents. It’s a new relationship that never before existed. It instantly became the most important relationship we’ve ever had.
They say a baby comes with a loaf of bread. The new axiom should be that a baby comes with an Amazon.com gift card. We brought him home to a room full of things we had purchased for him, his crib, onesies, bassinet (which I must admit I initially thought was a musical instrument), pacifiers, rattles, mirrors, lotions, creams, oils, travel systems, camera and monitor sets with detachable lenses, swaddles, diaper bags, diaper pail, diaper trash bags, diapers and wipes — it goes on. Companies with names like Uppababy, DiaperGenie, Aden and Anais, Huggies, Nati, that I had managed to completely ignore for 38 years were suddenly filling up my online shopping cart and conscious mind. I found myself waiting on line somewhere reading a heated online debates on whether the Yoyo or Uppababy Cruz stroller had better wheel mobility and traction on cobblestone streets. Once I realized how deep into the absurd minutia I had dived, I put down my phone and looked up to make sure nobody was watching. But this thought process is now unavoidable. I am often thinking about baby business ideas and have no shortage of really terrible ones. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll join “the baby racket,” as I describe it — an imaginary conglomerate of savvy toddlers and parents, managed by protagonist in the film “Boss Baby,” marketing newer, better, shinier, baby products to suckers like myself, ensuring a trade deficit with China for generations to come.
Having a new baby also means incorporating a brand new set of tasks designed for it’s wellbeing: things like breastfeeding (always her job), carrying the baby up staircases (usually my job), clipping toenails (her job), to changing all form of diapers (usually my job). What I didn’t know is that this diaper job gets harder over time. At first we dealt with partially-soiled, odorless, breast milk diapers which ultimately graduated to heavily-soiled, pungent, too-much-pasta-in-a-hot-car-on-the-side-of-the-road-in-Puglia-diapers. I am proud to say I now handle them all; quickly, cleanly, and accurately. A few weeks ago I actually caught myself in another strange corner of the internet after googling “Diaper changing speed competition”. The top two links were a Youtube video of an actual diaper-changing competition held in York County and an article where Mark Zuckerberg brags about being able to change a diaper in 20 seconds. Bring it, Mark !
Every day, regardless of where we are in the world, we repeat the same rituals, wake up, play, eat, diapers, story time, sleeping, REPEAT. I imagine this is the same day-to-day routine for billions of children across the planet. When you’re in it, they feel so mundane (and exhausting), yet reflecting on the experience as a whole, from Day 1 to now, observing my son’s mind, body and personality blossom as a function of this time spent together, it actually feels like nothing short of a miracle.
As time passes, the miracle reveals itself more fully. The love gets deeper. The parenting gets harder. My feelings for him are primal, instinctual, automatic. I think if my son were adopted I would feel exactly the same way. Parent love feels different than romantic love. It feels boundless. If there are edges to it, they are smooth. It is a love replete with responsibility, a nurturing kind of love.
It also changes the romantic love between the parents. With baby related tasks taking up the majority of our waking hours, romance doesn’t randomly occur with the same frequency. We now share and confirm potential date nights via Google calendar, which is the least romantic thing possible. But our bond is stronger than ever. Our last waking minutes of the day are usually spent reviewing each other’s photos of our son before posting them on our family Whatsapp.
During her long labor my wife had visions of starlight and the cosmos. On his 8th day, at his bris milah circumcision ritual, we named our son Orion, and nicknamed him Ori, for short. In Hebrew, it means “My Light.” As someone who struggles with the superstitions and laws of organized religion, the bris was tough for me to rationalize at first. I felt my son to be perfect and could not bring myself to do what we were about to do to him. But ultimately i did rationalize it. It marginally decreases risks of STD’s and infection. It made his look like mine. It made his grandparents happy. If he wanted to get one later, this would be much harder to do at an older age. In that fateful moment, I turned away as the mohel used a metal tool to clamp and snip off my son’s foreskin. He cried hysterically for a minute. I made sure he had enough wine. He stopped crying. I exhaled.
On Day 18 of Ori’s life, while putting him down for his evening sleep, he suddenly stopped breathing, lost all his color, and was not responsive. I shook him vigorously for what felt like an eternity but was probably closer to 20 seconds, and then screamed to my wife to call 911. I put him on the bed and was about to begin CPR when i noticed his fingers and toes finally start moving. By the time the paramedics were walking in our nursery a few minutes later, Ori was back to his normal self. Dana and I spent the night at the hospital with our tiny infant for observation. We didn’t sleep and instead watched Lady and the Tramp on the hospital TV while we nervously awaited news from the doctors. Thankfully, there was nothing wrong with our son. He had a B.R.U.E. (Brief Resolved Unexplained Event), perhaps the most unsatisfying medical diagnosis, if you can even call it that. Doctors aren’t sure why they occur but they belief that the electrical impulses in the brain are still sorting themselves out at that early age. We took him home from the hospital again. Cue Eddie Vedder and the tears, again.
Fatherhood has shifted my center of gravity and shuffled my priorities. Before Orion, I would spend the maximum amount of time at the office, always trying to get more and more done. Now I make sure to finish the most critical work so that I don’t miss that last couple hours of my son’s day. I race my bike 5.5 miles up the San Francisco hills from SOMA to the Inner Sunset on the bike path known as the “Wiggle” to get home on time. My excitement can only be matched by that of my squealing boy who races down the hallway to greet me, grabbing a hold of my leg while saying “Dada” over and over again. The second I see his sparkly eyed, 6-tooth smile, I pick him up, and am in heaven.
Fatherhood also marked the official end of my private life. Suddenly there’s this laser sharp, sensitive being that is watching me at all times like a hawk, observing and then mimicking everything I do, from subconscious habits to more significant behaviors. After my ride home, I typically head to the fridge and make my favorite cold beverage, ¼ Martinelli’s apple juice mixed with ¾ soda water. Ori usually follows me. After I took a sip of the beverage one evening, at 10 months old, my son opened his mouth wide and muttered the guttural “Ahhhh” sound one makes after quenching thirst. I wasn’t really aware that I even did this, but for my son, it was very clear, and so interesting to him that from then on, he was going to imitate it every time he took a sip of his little juice cup, regardless of his actual thirst level. The moment he made that Ahhh sound, I felt the way mobsters must feel when they discover they had an FBI wiretap in their living room for God knows how long. Holy shit, how long has he been watching me ?
Once I realized I could teach my son anything I wanted, I started talking to him differently, in regular colloquial English, explaining to him everything I know about the natural world. We spend most weekends exploring the idyllic, rugged, Northern California coast, walking on windswept beaches with names like Muir and Moss, wading through tide pools with fluorescent purple urchin and black mussels, following sun-kissed dirt trails contracting and expanding until you reach the grand, beating ocean like veins leading to a wide, open heart. I carried Orion in a front facing baby carrier so that he could see all the wondrous beauty for himself first, pointing out out every animal, plant, and object that I could identify. Now he usually prefers hiking on his own. He is a baby after my own heart.
Like all babies, Ori’s world is a haptic one. He smacks walls and surfaces. Once he picks something up there are basically two paths. He will either eat it or throw it. My cell phone’s main functionality is now to serve as a projectile. Please don’t make fun of those bulky, rubber, atrocious-looking Iphone protective cases. They are actually a product every dad needs. When he’s not slinging my cell phone, we are playing peek-a-boo, banging on a drum (sorry, neighbors),wrestling in our sheep skin rug, reading books with names like “Baby Beluga or “Kuma Kuma Chan”. His favorite book of late is called “Together.” It’s about a baby Otter describing the perfect day with his parent in which they watch the sunrise, learn how to develop Otter skills such as shucking oysters, and then go to sleep. Every good baby book is engineered to end with the young character going to sleep. Very smart.
When Orion was 13-months old, we took him to Oaxaca and Chiapas in Southern Mexico. He couldn’t yet walk with much confidence. In the market of Tlacolula, while my wife was searching for new textiles, Ori was crawling on all fours while roosters, 3-legged dogs, mariachi singers, and countless microscopic, Mexican microbes past him by. I followed just behind him to make sure nothing trampled him and to prevent him from eating some of the typical porquerias he may discover on the floor of a rural Oaxacan market. If I followed too far behind, I’d suddenly find him in the arms of Zapotec-speaking grandmothers who couldn’t resist lifting and kissing him. He was gracious enough to indulge each one with a besito of his own. Eventually I was able to pry him away from the most besotted of the señoras only by purchasing her palm straw mats. We went to eat one of my favorite Oaxacan foods, quesadillas de calabazas, squash blossom quesadillas, and my son scarfed down an entire one by himself. Later on in the trip, we tested my son’s palate once again. In San Cristobal, the capital of Chiapas, we stopped at a local street taqueria and asked them what their specialty was. It was a cow brain taco. Once again, Ori ate it with gusto. My wife and I both got a serious stomach bug from something we ate on that trip. Our boy, miraculously, was fine. I knew at that moment that we had a fantastic travel companion on our hands.
As the months go by, we are getting more and more glimpses into his personality. Ori typically prefers sprinting from Point A to Point B instead of walking. He is outgoing and friendly, offering hugs and smiles to just about any human or dog that crosses his path. Like his mom, who once prostrated herself on the sidewalk with a random Newfoundland for two hours on the corner Amsterdam and 95th Street in NYC, Ori can spend hours with a dog he loves. Like his dad, he loves soccer and being in the water. He already has a cracker of a left foot and has swum, or at least dipped his toes, in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the Yuba River, Hudson River, Ionian Sea, Black Sea, Adriatic Sea, Pammukale, Hierve el Agua, the Big Deep, Grotto de la Poesia, Orr Hot Springs, the Intracoastal, and the lake behind my childhood home in Miami. He’s an adventurous and sunny little boy, rambunctious, funny, and happy.
When Ori was 19 months old, we had to take him back to the hospital again. This time, it was for a well known illness, pneumonia. He got a cold that ended up going to the lungs. His breathing became so strained that he was admitted and kept in the ICU for 4 days. This time, we watched the film Coco and the Premier League over and over again until he recuperated fully. Walking through the children’s ICU every day humbled me to the core.
With fatherhood has also come a whole new set of anxieties to deal with. I think (and worry) about my kid a lot. He is on my mind first thing in morning and before going to sleep. After two ER visits before 20 months, how can he not be? We still sleep with the baby monitor next to our bed. While still quite agnostic, I find myself saying prayers, and expressing gratitude, every night for our boy as we put him to bed. I am not sure who or what I’m talking to but it just feels like the right thing to do. Gratitude is the most overwhelming emotion that I associate with this new chapter in my life. My wife and I feel in our bones that we’ve received the greatest of gifts.
The axiom I’ve heard over and over again is that having kids is the only decision you can’t really reverse. I would call this only a partially true statement. It’s certainly true that you can’t put the baby back in the womb. But what’s not true is that this was ever a decision in the first place. Having kids to me at least felt more like a biological impulse than a rational decision to go to the store to buy milk or not. The impulse is of course designed for the proliferation of our species.
The question I often wrestle with is whether more people will necessarily lead to our betterment of our species? Of our planet ? When I do force myself to rationalize my own procreation, I look at having babies not as an act of selfishness, but rather a statement of belief in your own genetic materials, or at least your ability to educate an individual who is likely to improve the quality of the world based on your own subjective standards.
The timing of Orion’s birth, coinciding with one of the most morally vapid Americans getting elected president, highlighted this for me like a clear ultrasound. With my wife 9.5 months pregnant, we marched at the Women’s March. There is no doubt our baby heard the sound of the drums and protest songs. Forging this new life and bringing him into the world — particularly at this time — — felt to us like an act replete with hope in a world devoid of it. While humanity as a whole, as a system, appears to be fatally flawed to the point that we are on a path of destroying the entire planet with nuclear weapons or fossil fuels , on the individual level, all human babies that I’ve ever met are the essence of purity, intelligence and goodness. It’s a strange contradiction.
Remember when you were amazed by a single leaf, a dog’s fur, or the sound of a fire truck? One of the virtues of having children is that one gets to relive their own childhood and experience the world again as if for the first time. Adulthood has the tendency to deplete many of us of our sense of wonder. Having a child reconnects us with our baby spirit. It reinforces the awesomeness we often lose as we age and reminds us that we were all babies once. And we can all be babies again. Perhaps at the next Davos conference or Middle East Peace Accords, we should have a 1 to 1 baby:adult ratio to remind these adults to a. loosen up and b. remember that they future generation that they are about to screw up is actually sitting in the room right now? What a childish idea.
If you’re paying attention as a parent, you notice how the world itself changes when you are with a baby. I remember traveling in Turkey as a single journalist in my mid-twenties and was never really blown away by the warmth or generosity of Turkish male strangers. On the contrary, I had some rather tense and hostile encounters. Boy, did that change walking around the Blue Mosque with a cute little 18 month old. Here’s a journal entry I wrote in Istanbul, “The men of Turkey have gone absolutely crazy for Ori, and who am I to intervene ? There’s a very specific, two-sided cheek grab they do when he reveals his face to just about every random Turk we’ve encountered. Random waiters, corn vendors, and cab drivers have all pinched our boys cheeks and muttered Turkish sweet nothings to him as if he understood. I’ve witnessed the baddest dudes on the block melt into smiling gobs of silly putty, stopping in their tracks to kiss him and hand him candy. Language does not matter. Only love.”
Time changes too. I think the reason time speeds up with a baby is that you notice the changes happening so quickly in them. The rate of change is remarkable; From crawling to walking in 3 months. From babbling to talking in 9 months. Adults do not change as fast — which leads us to perceive that life is moving slower. I asked my own Dad, father of 4, and a medical doctor about this theory. His answer was, “Who knows…that’s life, there’s nothing you can do to slow time. You must just relish every second with your family.” I knew my Dad would say something to this effect. I guess I know him well after 39 years.
In thinking about this some more, I understood that time itself is not like a cheeseburger; it is not innately relishable. The moments WITHIN time are what is relishable. Time is simply the continuum. It is the vacant hall that steams up with the warm breath of consciousness, the blank canvas to paint a yellow submarine, a sparkling white dutch oven to braise a lamb shank in a red wine sauce, a mirror to walk past in your Superman shirt.
In other words, time is the empty vessel of all moments and experiences. You can even think of it like tupperware containers. A year is the larger container. The month is a medium container. The day is the small one. The second is the really tiny one.
Soon, we will count Orion’s life in the larger containers; years, instead of months, weeks, or days. I am totally fine with this. The passage of time is, after all, inevitable and wondrous to behold. If we must use the larger tupperwares, then all the more potential to store precious delights.