At first sight, he looked like a slimy, chalk covered alien. His skin appeared to have been bathed in that disgusting liquid they make you drink before a colonoscopy.
We named him Austin. I didn’t fight it. Privately, I thought the name was too trendy. I had images of him trapesing off to prep school to hang out with all the Tanners, Aidens, Camdens, and Marcs (spelled with a c, of course). He’d join the crew team and play lacrosse. He’d probably learn to sail and clomp around in boat shoes.
Austin and I stared at each other once we were home. He had gargantuan cheeks and waves of blubbery leg rolls. I tried talking to him, but he cried. Sometimes an irate, ferocious cry with clenched fists and a crimson face. Sometimes a whimpering, sniveling cry. As if he was lodging a grievance to my presence. Considering I’d only introduced myself and let him know I was his father, I found him a bit rude.
When Austin didn’t cry, he drifted off to sleep. He usually slept peacefully, but sometimes his entire body would stiffen and he’d arch his back, appearing as if he was on a rollercoaster taking a steep drop. I was told this was normal. That babies need to adjust from being in the comfy quarters of their mother’s womb. It was explained that, out of the womb and possessing the new-found freedom to move, babies experienced a sensation of falling when they stretched their limbs. To me, it sounded similar to Brooks in the movie Shawshank Redemption. After so long in confinement, freedom was a terrifying reality. My boy was a week old and already acting like an ex-con.
The first few months you could leave Austin in one spot and know he would be delightfully stationary. He was easier to keep track of than socks or keys. But when he was about four months old, I wandered back into the living room and he had rolled over. Mobility became my sworn enemy.
I was informed I needed to babyproof the house. That involved affixing a gate to the top and bottom of the stairs, rendering electrical sockets largely useless, and sliding a foam cushion material on furniture edges. Somehow, this also involved getting rid of my favorite recliner, my collection of coasters from bars around the world, and buying a new couch. Some of those coasters came from Prague, Helsinki, and Mexico City. It was the only evidence I had of my worldliness. I did not see how any of this protected the baby.
Austin started crawling at six months. At first, slow and unsteady, like a drunk trying to find the closest trashcan to empty his stomach. This should not have been surprising as he tended to expel whatever he’d ingested within an hour of eating. Soon, he gained confidence and speed. He began surfing across furniture using his minuscule hands. The first thing he accomplished was removing all of the foam cushion corners I had installed. My wife clapped and screamed, taking picture after picture, encouraging him. Not a word of encouragement was uttered when I spent hours fitting each foam cushion snugly on every piece of wood in the house.
I now sat across from Austin at Claremont Medical. His wife was thirty yards away, being prepped for a C-section.
He was terrified. I recognized the look. It was my face for the last twenty-six years. He told me he didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t ready. The house wasn’t ready. He needed more time and a couple of stiff drinks.
I put my hand on his shoulder and told him he wasn’t ready. But that was okay. I told him about his first few months. I warned him that babies looked like aliens. They would scream and shriek, often seeming to be directly accusing you of some horrible wrongdoing. They were rude. They were chubby with cankles. They had no regard for daddy’s beer coaster collection or favorite recliner. You would almost drown them the first time you gave them a bath. Your wife would snip at you, exhausted and angry, and you usually wouldn’t know why.
But I told him he’d muddle through it. I let him know I was proud of who he had become, even though he did play lacrosse and wear boat shoes. I told him I wouldn’t change a single second of it. And I made it emphatically clear I wasn’t going to change any diapers.
The nurse emerged, and handed Austin scrubs and a mask. She instructed him to come with her and asked if he was ready to meet his baby. Austin said no, smiled, and followed her through the doorway.
Neal Suit is a recovering lawyer. He writes fiction and is completing his first novel. He has short stories published or forthcoming in Literally Stories, Mystery Weekly, Emerge Literary Journal, and (mac)ro(mic), among others. He lives in Dallas, Texas with his family and periodic writer’s block. He can be reached on Twitter @SuitNeal.