A little over a week ago I learned about true love. Real, unabated love. The kind that hurts; that makes your chest tight ... but in a good way? I didn’t think that was physically possible — and then last Saturday happened.
In “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” remember when his heart grows three sizes? That euphoric moment where it practically breaks out of his chest? That’s what I felt like at 12:14 a.m. last Saturday.
And then there was the fear. Oh, the fear. Not worry for my well being. But when Alexandria Grace Ochs was born 7 pounds, 13 ounces on Feb. 25, I was overcome by a flood of questions and emotions; it’s getting dusty in my office even now as I type these words. Is she breathing OK? How are we going to afford all of these diapers? Is she crying enough? Why ISN’T she crying? How can something so small go to the bathroom so much? And how can anyone function on this amount of sleep?!
During the moments immediately before I became a father at age 32, my full attention was on my wife and her well being. My everything was doing something more incredible than my simple brain could comprehend. And once I knew she was OK, I looked at Allie Grace for the first time and ... wow. Indescribable. The room went quiet as they placed her on my wife. She wailed. And it was the cutest cry I’ve ever heard. Cute crying? Is that even possible. And don’t get me started about the first time that little hand slowly wrapped five tiny fingers around my pinky.
Waited a lifetime
While we were still in the hospital, my parents brought my 94-year-old grandfather to the Coast to visit the latest addition to the family. My heart filled with joy when he met Allie Grace for the first time.
“I’ve waited my whole life for this,” the World War II veteran said, tears in both of our eyes. With the help of my dad — and Papa serving as “supervisor” — we later planted fig and pear trees in the back yard that can grow with Allie Grace so we can “remember him.” I hope they’re memories he cherishes as well. At almost 95 years old, each clear moment we get to be together is another blessing.
In the days since we left the hospital as a family of three for the first time I have caught myself staring at Allie Grace; often big, dark blue eyes inquisitively stare back. When she falls asleep on my chest — nothing feels better. At 2 a.m., when the house is silent except for her cries until she finally falls asleep in my arms, there’s a real sense of accomplishment.
It’s in those brief moments that the fears and insecurities melt away; at least momentarily.
My mind wanders to my parents and grandparents. I couldn’t have had a better childhood. A son to two loving parents who got to know all four of his grandparents, I know many others aren’t as lucky. The sacrifices my parents made so that my sister and I never wanted must have been enormous. My childhood memories are filled with smiles and laughs; swimming parties like the one where Todd smashed his face into my Super Mario themed birthday cake only to send my parents lunging for towels (and me to wonder if Todd would ever be invited back); fishing trips with Papa and “Giggles” where a plastic orange-and-white Snoopy fishing rod was all that stood between me and the biggest fish tails ever told; pranking grandma — over and over and over — while she got her hair fixed up in the kitchen; long road trips for my travel hockey team, which, as I reflect back, were more about father-son time than the actual games. Can I replicate those types of memories for my little girl? What if she — hopefully — gets my wife’s rhythm? Are dance recitals in our future?
Over the last nine months my wife has been more than a trouper. Never once during pregnancy did she complain when she felt uncomfortable or couldn’t eat or drink a dietary staple. Nine months without caffeine would have driven me batty — but she did it with a smile on her face. We often write about athletic heroes and ball players who are role models — folks who can hit a round ball with a round bat, squarely. When I eventually grow up, I want to be like my wife. I know whatever concerns I have, my wife has them too. Luckily for me she’s always prepared for whatever life throws at us. With her by my side, I know we’ll be OK.
Soon enough, Allie Grace will learn about the virtues of Huey Lewis and the News; that Imo’s pizza really is “the square beyond compare”; the magic that unfolds while listening to Mike Shannon call a St. Louis Cardinals ballgame on a warm summer evening; why sweet tea is vastly superior to unsweetened tea; and how the Dallas Cowboys are America’s Team. Right now I’ll take learning how to keep her socks on her feet.
The concerns that continuously float around in my head ... I understand they won’t ever fully subside. But neither will the genuine love that fills my heart.