Pain: When the Heart Sinks

(This is not a story I usually share.)

Photo by Jake Melara

The first time I was kissed by a girl:

I was sitting on the staircase in the hallway outside my grandmother’s apartment. It was the top floor of the building, so no one used those stairs unless going to the roof. It was a (somewhat) quiet place where I would do homework seated sideways with the steps as my desk.

A Girl lived across the way with her two older brothers. She was a little older than me — perhaps only by a year or two. At that age, though, every year counts. So, my schoolboy crush would always remain unrequited.

Maybe I knew this. I probably did, but still held out hope. I was young.

I don’t remember hearing approaching footsteps but before I knew it a face was upon me. And a smooch on my unsuspecting lips.

By the time I knew what happened, she was already back in her apartment. I sat there stunned as my newly-christened lips began to curl up on the sides. My heart was doing this weird pitter-patter. Then I heard something from the window nearby.

Sticking my head out into the shaft between buildings, I heard laughter coming from the Girl’s window. She was giggling along with her older brothers. I smiled, wondering what was going on.

A sudden realization came over me. They were laughing about, or rather at, me. This is not a story I usually share.

We pulled up to the traffic light just around the corner from our apartment as we had so many times before. But things were different. And not just our newborn child snug in her too-big-to-fit clothes in the backseat.

John Legend came on the radio and it was all I could do not to completely meltdown into tears. Not “tears of joy,” of course there was a sense of joy, but it was more tears of relief, tears of an endured pain at long last lifted.

My wife and I got pregnant at an age of “increased risk”—and, wow, do the doctors remind you of this. Often. We never really felt at ease during her pregnancy. Were we happy? Absolutely! But, there was always this “waiting for the other shoe to drop” worry—and medical professionals never made us feel less so.

I get it: Doctors or technicians are probably trained to be robots to save their asses from malpractice lawsuits. But, come on! Give us a “your baby looks good” while we sit there in silence as you click away measurements during a sonogram. Tell us genetic counseling is a “routine” precaution for certain couples. Remember we are two people scared out of their minds with data and probabilities and maybe just remind us that a beautiful thing is happening.

One rare moment of relaxation, where we even felt like just a couple again (not just would-be baby-makers), came when my sister got us tickets to see John Legend. It was such a treat at the end of her second trimester—while my wife was still able to make her way around. We enjoyed a fancy dinner, got all dressed up and had a great time at the concert. It was a nice calm. Before:

Winter would hit hard in the last throes of my wife’s term. She, of course, went into labor on the eve of a snowstorm. Then, yes, my daughter’s cord would be wrapped around her so we’d need a c-section. And, my wife would have to be knocked out midway into delivery. But, all the worry and anxiety of the last nine months would finally let up. Our girl made it and she let out her first cry.

Mine would come to the lyrics of Mr. Legend at the red light almost home from the hospital. My heart, my whole body, sighed.

My daughter’s first week in the toddler room at daycare was rather hard. Probably for me more than her.

Teachers in both rooms do a great job of transitioning them from the infant room—letting them “visit” with the toddlers and preparing them for the new routines. They also prepare the parents: Letting us know when the kid starts full-time in the new room, there is usually pullback. But that it is normal. Most kids fall in with the other kids faster than they know it.

It was tough dropping off a kid who clung to you for dear life. I was positive, assuring her that all was okay. Ultimately sometimes, I had to just leave. Leaving, though, meant walking down the hall with windows that look into the toddler room and having her see me leaving her — very often crying her eyes out.

Once I got into the habit of not carrying her in, showing her the other kids she knew from back in the infant room and—perhaps the best trick of all—reminding her they were getting ready for a “breakfast” snack, she was set.

All the crying and clinging, by the way, only lasted about a week. She is, of course, thriving now in Toddler. She loves the morning circle, going outside with the other kids to the playground, and her teachers are her new BFFs. But I’ll never forget this one time I left her; I believe it was her first “visit” to the toddler room.

Peering in the last window before leaving, I got a glimpse of her sitting alone at a table, looking around at the other kids. All the feelings I had when starting third grade at my new school and not knowing anyone came rushing back to me. My heart sank in my chest for her. My eyes welled. I had to take a moment to reclaim my breathing once I got to the car.

The greatest pain I feel now
—worse than any heartache or heartbreak I’ve known—
is not wanting my child to endure pain or sadness or worry
but knowing she will
and that she must in order to be stronger.

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