“You’re being an asshole,” I scream downstairs at my ten year-old daughter. My voice echoes off the walls as my partner, Daniel, stares at me aghast.
I immediately run down the flight of stairs into my daughter’s room, which she shares with her brother. My daughter, who is smarter than me by a mile, gazes at me with her wide eyes. Looking into them, time stops, and I think about the day she was born.
“Easy birth,” our nurse Mary says, easing our daughter onto the warming tray. “Sarah [the birth mother] was amazing. I have to tell you I see a lot of new babies, and you’ve got an extremely alert one here.”
An unwarranted sense of pride fills me to the point of bursting and, as if on cue, our daughter brings me back down to reality – as she will so often in the future. With a soft guttural groan and a scrunching up of her face she evicts the foulest black tar-like sludge I have ever seen. It is shocking.
“Perfectly normal,” Mary informs us as she notices our jaws hitting the floor. “It’s called Meconium and she is doing exactly the right thing by getting it out.”
I marvel as Mary manages to keep her hand on Zelda’s stomach while scooping up the meconium and throwing it away. Her calm demeanor fills the room with an air of tranquility.
“We left the umbilical cord long so you guys could cut it. There’s no sensation in the umbilical cord, so don’t worry, you won’t hurt her,” Mary says handing us a pair of scissors.
I think about the pain I will undoubtedly inflict upon her during her lifetime, some of which I will realize and some which I won’t. Those tiny moments when a parent says or does something that enters the child’s psyche and lodges itself deep within.
“The closer the better, I think,” Mary instructs us.
We snip off the remaining physical connection she has to her birth mother.
“Hello,” I say standing above her, my hand now resting gently on her warm belly. The sun is starting to set and the room is bathed in the magic golden hour light. It does feel like a miracle.
“Hello…” Daniel echoes into her blue eyes. She is definitely alert. Her nose is upturned but adorable.
She stares up at us as though she is looking directly into us. Sussing us out.
Without words what noise fills ours minds?
“Hello…” I repeat.
We cradle this little girl, less than 15 minutes old, new to the world, new to us, new to everything, and give her her first bath. Daniel and I take turns cleaning her perfect, soft skin with a warm washcloth while the other holds her fragile neck. Mary teaches us how to swaddle her like a small loaf, cocooned and secure.
“Congratulations you guys,” she says leaving us to be with our child as she closes the door behind her.
“Daniel?” I whisper.
“She’s amazing,” he says and sits down beside me.
I lean over and kiss his cheek and then I kiss her. Daniel looks at me with a peace in his eyes that I have never seen before. I think about the idea of a child being in one’s care and the responsibility that carries, we have been entrusted with a life and the depth and meaning of that is only just beginning to sink in.
“You called me an asshole,” Zelda says, snapping me back into reality.
“Not you. I said you were being an asshole. There is a difference. But regardless, you are the farthest thing from one and I never should have said that,” I tell her. It is true. She is an amazing kid. She is kind and thoughtful and wicked smart. Her mind works in ways that surprise me and her teachers notice, “She is always thinking but she never speaks just to hear herself talk. When she talks, people listen.”
“I apologize,” I say taking her small face in my hands. “Everyone makes mistakes and that was a big one. I hope you can forgive me.”
It had been a long day, the kids had no school because of parent-teacher conferences and I had been with them all day. We were all a little sick of one another. She hid downstairs and jumped out at her brother, a boy who is mischievous while being keenly sensitive as well. He burst into tears ran into our guest room and slammed the door.
“You’re being an asshole,” came out before I even knew it.
We love and we hate and sometimes they converge. I would kill for my children but there are those moments when you just need them to go away. But they are little and have nowhere to go.
Later that night lying in bed with her I reiterated how sorry I was and that I hoped she could forgive me. She said she would and then in the darkness with a smile behind her words she said, “You called me an asshole.” Then she began to giggle.