Being a parent makes you keenly aware of what a big deal lurks at the core of every birthday, namely the first one: the zero birthday, or age one, as it is deemed in many Asian countries. No mean feat, emerging into the outside world, being drowned in light and noise, especially your own noise, and air, and cold.
I like to remember that long night of Matt's emergence, by Cesarian, finally, at one in the morning. Hiding somewhere in my room upstairs is a notebook with an account of the long day before the long night, a narrative of ice chips, of soothing clarinet music (Richard Stoltzman), of watching swimming crests on an oscilloscope, and cheerful, bigger-than-life, nurses coming and going like characters in a play. Then there was that separate act of chemicals, and epidurals, and inducing labor. And the last thing before the first thing was sitting in an outer room scribbling a letter of introduction to my son (for we knew he was). I was nervous about our meeting, whether he'd like me. I told him I thought we'd be great friends, but I was trying to calm myself down. Events were speeding slowly, if such a thing is possible. Coaxing a baby out from an awkward position. We were tiptoeing through a small, intense, war.
The doctor snapped at me for being in the way, and maybe I was. I had to stay on the Carol's head-side of the curtain. It was like a sawing-the-lady-in-half trick, and maybe it felt like that to Carol, but then God help us there was a thin yowl, I think, that was the trumpet of deliverance. And the next first thing I remember is a baby. A baby. Clipping an umbilical cord— finally, a job for me—did that happen first next? Or was it second next after seeing this baby on a white scale, hearing the thin yowl in the too-bright light, and looking at the blood outlining his tiny (but big) fingernails. A baby. My baby! Was I ready for this? As ready as he was for us. Not ready, but all thrown into the breach...
And when they bundled him in a blanket and put him in a covered crib, where he slept, he looked so much smaller. I could talk to him now, trying out my own role of father.
Then there was waking up in Carol's room next morning, at dawn, having slept maybe three hours, but enough to get from night to morning. It was the morning of April 27th. Of course it was 1995, just as it had been all year. And out the window were these beautiful trees, foamy with white blossoms. The war was over. We had won. We were hollow and foamy with fatigue, but as peaceful and blissful as Olympian deities looking down at an orderly universe. Well, easier for me to do. For a moment.
Now he's gone fifteen laps around the sun since then, each time getting a little bigger. Or even a lot bigger. That's the way it's supposed to work. So I say, well-run, kid. I'm jogging with you. Happy birthday.