Just when I thought my wife couldn’t be more amazing, I watched her bring our daughter into the world. She was so tiny, our little Bean. She was bloody, squirming and screaming- Haley, I mean- and I was in love with her immediately. I had wondered how I would feel when she finally came out, and I was stunned by how overwhelming it was. All of a sudden this tiny person I had been trying to imagine for the last nine months had a face, and a personality all her own.
Once they got her cleaned off, I was convinced she was the most beautiful baby ever brought into the world, second only to her mother. I went with her to the nursery to be examined by her doctor. All of the little tests they ran came back with good results. She was given a perfect bill of health for a newborn, and was brought back to Sookie’s room.
Sookie looked exhausted even in her sleep. Her head was rolled to the side, her hands resting on her still rather pregnant looking stomach. They don’t show you that in movies. In movies, a woman gives birth and magically goes back to being a size two. It wasn’t like that for Sookie at all. She still looked beautiful, though. I was left alone with the baby. Sandra reminded me where the call button was if I needed anything.
I planned to let Sookie sleep for as long as possible before she had to be woken up to feed the baby. I’d tried to talk her into bottle feeding, if only because I didn’t want her to wear herself out breastfeeding at all hours of the day. I lifted the tiny bundle that was my daughter, and she fit easily into my hands. She snorted and wiggled some, but her eyes remained closed.
I sat down in the chair that wasn’t meant for a man of my size, and just stared at my daughter. Beautiful. I shifted her in my arms so I was cradling her, then began to unwrap her slightly. Her little hands emerged, and mittens had been put on her to keep her from scratching her perfect little face all to hell. I pulled one of those mittens off to examine her hands.
She grabbed my finger immediately and opened her eyes. I cooed at her in Swedish, telling her how lucky she was to have the best mother in the world. She just snorted and sucked her cheeks. Her tiny tongue popped out of her mouth, then disappeared just as quickly. She was curled in a tiny ball, not yet used to having all the room she could ever want to stretch out in.
I paid attention to every little noise she made, wanting to memorize them all. I stood and located the digital camera Sookie had packed. For once the fluorescent lights in the room were a bonus, since it meant using the flash less. I didn’t want to blind my baby. I’d read they could detect light, but I’m sure it was still rather dark for the first nine months of her life.
I spoke Swedish to her again, telling her the story of how I met her mother. “If this ever happens to you, little girl, you run the other way.”
Her little tongue appeared again. Her mother would be proud of her for that, even if it was an involuntary reflex. I was still talking to her when I heard Sookie crying in her bed. I turned to face her, relieved only slightly when I saw she was smiling. It dawned on me then that I was going to have to put up with two crying women. I wasn’t looking forward to that.
Sookie teased me for being so enamored with Haley, but how could I not be? Wasn’t my job, as a father, to think my daughter was the most beautiful creature to walk the earth since her mother was born? I slowly got up from my chair and handed Haley over to Sookie, who gasped and looked up at me with the same expression of awe I’d had when I first saw her.
We were in the midst of deciding who Haley looked more like when Michelle and Corbett came in. After exchanging hugs and hellos, I sat next to Sookie while we watched her parents make fools of themselves in attempts to get a smile out of Haley. She wasn’t even six hours old yet. We were a long way from smiles on purpose, but it was still fun to watch them try.
My own parents couldn’t get a flight out of California until the following day due to some bad weather on their end. Not only were my parents going to meet their first grandchild, but I planned to tell them about the decision Sookie and I had come to in regards to them living in my old house. Truthfully, I liked the idea of them being around. I’d had some time to consider it, and since I’d never had grandparents around regularly as a kid, I thought it would be nice for Haley to have that.
I knew Sookie and her Gran had been close as kids, and I wanted that for Haley. There was much for her to learn from her grandparents, and I knew my Dad was going to melt the second he laid eyes on her. If Sookie thought I was a threat to Haley’s future social life, Dad was even worse. I was curious to see what my parents would be like as grandparents. I had no doubt Mom would spoil Haley every chance she got, which was something Sookie and I wanted to curb. We had a few rules we planned to put in place for the sake of our sanity.
We weren’t used to having parents close by, and I didn’t want Mom steamrolling everyone. I appreciated her energy and wanting to be involved in our lives, but we didn’t need to be monitored. We were adults and perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves, and our daughter. Getting Mom to accept the rules was going to be the tough part. Hopefully, she would understand where we were coming from, but I was prepared for her to get hyper defensive.
Michel;e and Corbett stayed until Anne came in on shift change, and told them it was time to go. She fawned over Haley for a few minutes herself before letting us know a lactation consultant would be coming down to talk to Sookie about breastfeeding. I didn’t know such a job existed. Sookie fell asleep shortly after her parents left, leaving me to sit up with Haley. I was tired myself, but I couldn’t stop staring at my daughter. My daughter… it still sounded foreign to me, but it felt good to say.
The next morning Sookie was in the midst of feeding Haley when Amelia and Tray came in with breakfast for us. Amelia almost immediately burst into tears while holding Haley. They stayed for a while, cooing over the baby and asking Sookie how she was doing. But then a woman by the name of Dee stopped in to teach Sookie how to give Haley a bath. While they went over that, I started on the paperwork to have Sookie released from the hospital.
It amazed me that less than twenty-four hours had passed since she’d given birth, and already she was being sent home. I knew she was anxious to get back to familiar surroundings and the comfort of her own bed. If her mom wasn’t in town, I doubt she would have been quite so eager. I wanted to get them home and settled before I had to pick up my parents from the airport.
When I came back to the room, Dee and Sookie were just finishing up and getting Haley dressed to go home. She was wearing the smallest sundress I’d ever seen, and Sookie was swaddling her so tight she looked like a little pink burrito. A few minutes later, Anne came in with the discharge papers for Sookie to sign herself out of the hospital. I grabbed her bags and headed down to get the car. I sat behind the wheel in front of the main entrance of the hospital, waiting for Sookie to appear.
When she did, she was looking down at Haley making faces. What was it about infants that made perfectly sane adults act like they were missing copious amounts of brain cells? I got out of the car and took Haley from Sookie so I could get her buckled into her car seat for her first ride. I helped Sookie into the car as well, and thanked Anne for all of her help. Sookie and Anne actually hugged before I closed her into the car.
I got in the driver’s seat and looked at Sookie in the review mirror. “So, Mom, are you ready to go home?”
She was looking down at a sleeping Haley and said, “Yes, Daddy, I think I am.” She smiled up at me, catching my reflection in the mirror and blowing a kiss at me.
The drive home was short. The trains were cooperating with us for a change. We got back to find the front yard decorated with a whole slew of pink storks, and a sign letting the neighbors know that Haley Anne had come into the world the day before. There was definitely no mistaking there was a new baby in the house. Jeter was at the front door, barking hysterically before we even got up to the house. Corbett held onto his collar to keep Jeter from knocking Sookie over when she stepped through the door.
She set Haley’s car seat down on the bench by the door, and released the restraints on the seat. Carefully, she lifted Haley out and cradled her as she hugged each of her parents before going further into the house. I went straight upstairs with Sookie’s bags. I came downstairs to find that Michelle had all of the little things ready to go that we would need for Haley at a moment’s notice. There was a stack of diapers, burp rags and spare onesies just waiting to be used. A box of wipes was on the lower level of the coffee table.
Sookie handed Haley off to her Mom so she could go upstairs and shower. “Eric, will you help me up the stairs?”
“Of course.” I smiled at her.
We walked up the stairs together with me behind Sookie just in case. She’d tried to explain the pain she was in, but I knew there was no way I could ever really understand it. When I told Sookie she was a superhero, she just rolled her eyes at me. She was moving slowly, but I expected it would be that way for a few days. I couldn’t even imagine pushing a human being out of… well, yeah. No, I couldn’t do it, and I’m man enough to admit it.
I stayed in the bathroom with her while she showered, but I didn’t get in with her. I wanted to, believe me, but she wasn’t medically allowed to celebrate the way I wanted to for at least another six weeks. Some of the reading I’d done on the subject likened childbirth to an explosion going off inside her. That didn’t sound at all pleasant, and I had absolutely no intention of disrupting her healing. We talked while she got cleaned up.
The water turned off suddenly, and she reached out for a towel without pulling back the shower curtain. When she finally pulled the curtain back she held out her hand to me so I could help her out of the tub. I knew she hated asking for help.
“Sorry. I’ll be okay in a few days, I hope.”
“Sookie, you just expelled a human being from your body. Helping you out of the tub, up the stairs or into bed is not a big deal.” I kissed her wet hair.
“I just hate being dependent on everyone.” She grumbled while grabbing for a second towel to dry her hair.
“I know you do, and I love that you’re so independent, but it’s okay to ask for help right now. Haley needs you to be healthy and strong for her, so if that means you have to lean on me more than usual, I am way beyond okay with that.” I assured her.
She smiled faintly at me and then combed through her hair. A look at my watch told me it was about time to leave to go pick up my parents. I left her upstairs while she was getting dressed.
“Do you want me to bring anything back for you?” I asked her.
She thought about it for a moment and then said, “New Starr.”
“You got it.” I winked, and then headed off to get my parents.
I came back a few hours later with three big bags of food and my parents in tow. The car had barely stopped when Mom was popping out of the backseat to get in the house. By the time Dad and I caught up with her, she was already snuggling Haley. That poor baby didn’t stand a chance.
“For heaven’s sake, Stella, don’t squeeze her so hard.” Dad teased.
“Oh, hush, Tom!” Mom swatted at him blindly. “She’s perfect! Aren’t you just the cutest little girl in the whole world?”
The baby talk was damn close to nauseating. At least I had enough dignity to do it in Swedish so no one knew what the hell I was saying. Mom, on the other hand, openly gushed over her first grandchild. It took a while before she was willing to pass Haley over to Dad, and even then it was only after she made him wash his hands. Twice.
“Come here, Tootsie, Papa’s got you.” Dad said as he took Haley from Mom. “Well, you’ve got quite a grip on you, don’tcha? That’s good. Means you’ll throw a solid right cross when you’re older.”
I couldn’t help but laugh while Mom chided him. We all sat down to dinner together with Haley in her little swinging bassinet a few feet away. Sookie had to bail on the middle of dinner to feed the baby, but gave strict orders to leave her plate right where it was. We sat and talked for a bit after dinner, but Sookie and I were both exhausted, and we knew our first night with an infant in the house was going to be interesting.
My parents took the Comet and headed back to the house in Franklin Park. Corbett and Michelle were staying in the guest room for the duration. Sookie and I headed up to bed just after eight. She went to brush her teeth while I sat with Haley. Her big blue-gray eyes were wide open, taking in her surroundings. It amazed me how alert she was. She looked at me like she’d seen me before, but couldn’t remember where. It was fun to watch all of the little faces she made.
Her arms and legs flailed a little in the tiny pink sleeper she was wearing. Her legs were long and she stretched them almost hesitantly. When I lifted her up, her legs immediately curled up toward her chest. She tucked herself into the little ball she was used to being, and settled easily on my chest. She couldn’t hold her head up yet, but I knew it would be a few weeks before she could.
Sookie came back from the bathroom and settled onto her side of the bed. There was plenty of space between us, and I lay Haley down in that space. We smiled down at our daughter, making faces and talking to her. Her little head turned back and forth, depending on who was talking.
“I’m surprised your Mom isn’t hiding out in our bushes.” Sookie joked.
“I put a muscle relaxer in her drink.” I joked right back.
Sookie giggled and tickled Haley’s stomach. “Your Nana’s not so bad. And if she ever gets on your nerves, you go tell Papa Tom, and he’ll get her off your back.”
“You’ve got Papa wrapped around your finger there, Haley.” I smiled down at her.
“You know, this kid already has more nicknames in twenty-four hours than I’ve had in my whole life.” Sookie smoothed back Haley’s hair.
It was thick, blonde and stood straight up for the most part. She absolutely despised pacifiers. Wouldn’t take one if her life depended on it, not for lack of the nurses trying to get her to take it. Sookie and I merely shrugged it off and figured it was one less habit we’d have to break her of later on. Potty training would be difficult enough without trying to get her to give up a pacifier, too.
Sookie fell asleep a short time later. I changed Haley’s diaper (I really don’t know what all the fuss is about there) and then put her in the portable crib we’d set up in our room for her. We figured it would be easier to have her right there than to have to go across the hall every time she woke up. Once she was sleeping more than two or three hours at a time, we’d put her in her own room.
I turned off the light, and got back into bed next to Sookie. She turned onto her other side, and I curled myself around her. It seemed like I had just gone to sleep when Haley started crying.
Let’s get ready to rumble, I thought. I started to get up, but Sookie patted my shoulder. “I got her, Eric.”
I wish I could say I stayed up to make sure everything was okay, but sleep pulled me right back under. I couldn’t tell you what happened. For all I know, a dancing bear came in the room and spent an hour singing Wayne Newton songs and doing Rockette style high kicks. I honestly have no idea.
The next few days passed in much the same way as our first day home. Friends and family dropped by. Sookie and I talked to Mom and Dad about them moving to Chicago on their last night in town. We were having dinner together at our house. Haley was sound asleep in her swing, and Sookie was giving me a run for my money on who could eat more. It was actually rather entertaining.
I cleared my throat and said, “Sookie and I have talked about you two moving here, and we decided we don’t have a problem with you moving into the house so long as we can agree on a few ground rules.” I looked at my mother, knowing she was the one most likely to cause a problem.
“Let’s hear it.” Dad said before taking another bite of his steak.
“Well, for starters, you need to call before coming over.” I continued to stare at Mom.
“Of course we would call first.” Mom looked offended, but we all knew better.
“And you can’t bring presents every single time you come by. We know Haley’s your granddaughter, and we appreciate your generosity toward her, but she needs only so many stuffed animals and dresses.” Sookie chimed in.
Mom looked like she might protest, but there was a small pile of gifts from her and Dad alone. It seemed everywhere she went, Mom found something she thought was just “too darling to pass up.” There were enough stuffed animals to fill Noah’s Ark, and the pile was only going to get bigger with Mom and Dad living close by.
“That sounds fair.” Dad nodded.
“If we ask you to go home, that means time’s up.”
“Oh, Eric, now you’re just being ridiculous.” Mom laughed, although she was the only one.
“No offense, Mom, but you have a hard time knowing when enough is enough, and we want to be very clear about things. We want you to be around, but we don’t want to be smothered. We’re adults.”
Mom glared at me for a moment and said, “Eric, what makes you think I don’t respect the fact that you’re an adult? Did I suggest you move back home when you got into trouble with the police? Have I ever told you what to do with your life, outside of marrying Sookie? No. You’re a smart man. I know you’re a husband and a father, and I am so proud of you for taking those steps in life. Your father and I don’t want to move here because we think you two aren’t capable of handling that sweet baby on your own. We want to be here because you’re our son, and family should stick together.” Mom wiped her mouth and set down her fork.
I felt bad for a minute, but I wasn’t going to back down on any of the “demands” Sookie and I were making in regards to them moving here. I knew if we didn’t put all of this out there beforehand, Mom would try to come in and take over.
“And one more thing.” I hated that this was all directed at Mom.
“What now?” She sighed heavily.
“I know Pam isn’t your favorite person. You have your reasons for not liking her, and that’s fine. I’m not going to try and change your mind. I will, however, ask that you don’t speak badly about her in front of Haley. Your issues with her don’t have to be Haley’s.” I knew we were a long way off before we had to worry about Haley’s thoughts being tainted by the words of others, but the time would come before we knew it. Not to mention, I just didn’t want to hear it.
Mom looked at me with glassy eyes before agreeing she would keep her opinions to herself in Haley’s presence. I really wished I could understand what her problem was. I just didn’t get it. I would have figured that Johan being happy with Pam would be reason enough for her to lighten up, but apparently it wasn’t. Fortunately Haley woke up early from her nap, and Mom took her so Sookie could finish eating.
A little bonding time with the baby quickly rectified Mom’s sour mood. The rest of their visit was peaceful. They came by in the morning to return the Comet so I could take them to the airport. They were going to put the house on the market in California as soon as they got back. They were hoping to be settled into the Franklin Park house before Halloween, but wouldn’t move here until the other house had sold. Dad wanted to talk about a rental agreement, but I told him we could figure that out later on once they were settled into the house.
“I thought you’d say that.” Dad smirked at me, then pressed a small piece of paper into my hand. “That’s for your daughter’s college fund.”
I looked down at the check he’d given me. I could have tried to give it back, but he would have just given it to Sookie instead, and she while she would think it was over-the-top, she had been raised not to turn away a gift. I got back from taking Mom and Dad to the airport to find out Sookie had gotten a call from Pam while I was gone.
“They’re going to fly in in a few weeks. Something came up with a contract job for Johan in Milan and he couldn’t get out of it. I told them they could stay here, or at the Franklin Park house since.” Sookie told me.
Pam had sold her condo, which only cemented her decision about moving across the pond. I missed her sometimes, I can’t lie about that. But I also missed my brother. I hoped if they ever decided to be a more conventional couple that they would come back to the States to get married and raise their kids. The idea of a pregnant Pam sent me into a fit of laughter that Sookie quickly joined when I told her what I was imagining.
“Can you imagine…” Sookie gasped for air between giggles. “Pam will be coordinating headbands with her hospital gown.”
I laughed harder because it was true. Only Pam would be worried about something like that. Sookie went upstairs to take a nap, leaving me to tend to Haley alone. I sat with her on the couch and turned on ESPN. If it’s possible, my eight-day-old daughter looked bored out of her mind.
“Just like your mother.” I chuckled and kissed her little head.
I was forced to take Haley upstairs two hours later when she decided she couldn’t wait anymore to eat. Sookie was already sitting up in bed, waiting for Haley when I walked into the room. Haley latched on immediately and Sookie sent me on a mission to get her some iced tea and apple slices. I brought her what she asked for and threw in a load of laundry. I was chopping veggies for stir-fry for dinner when Sookie and Haley came downstairs.
“How’s the weather outside?” Sookie asked.
“Warm, but not unbearable.” I said as I sliced through a red pepper.
“I was thinking of going for a walk with the baby. You want to leash up Jeter and come with?” She asked.
“Sure. Just let me get finished up here.” I said over my shoulder.
Sookie put Haley in her swing and then came to help me prep veggies. In no time flat, the veggies were prepped and ready for later. I got steak strips marinading in a Ziploc and Sookie got Haley ready to go. Jeter was surprisingly cooperative about being leashed, considering her was used to running free in the yard without it. I got the stroller out of the trunk of Sookie’s car while she locked up the house.
We walked for a while at a slow pace since Sookie was still having trouble getting around. I knew she was feeling better, but it still sucked to know she was having any sort of discomfort, especially since there wasn’t much I could do to help her with it. Haley slept through the walk, but that was fine by us. Sookie steered the stroller with one hand and held my hand with the other.
We walked up to the house just as Amelia and Tray were getting out of their car. Amelia was in an exceptionally good mood and just about pounced on Sookie as soon as she was close enough. Sookie stood perfectly still, patting Amelia gently on the back.
“Ame, I need air here.” Sookie finally said.
“Sorry, sorry, I’m just…ohhh, I’m excited.” She fanned her face and thrust a piece of paper at Sookie.
I looked over Sookie’s shoulder and immediately recognized what I was looking at. “Well, well, it’s about time.” I smiled at them.
Sookie gasped and then threw her arms around Amelia. “How far along are you?”
“Nine weeks.” Amelia was damn near impossible to understand. “Our kids won’t be in the same class, but if I have a boy they can still get married.”
Amelia and Sookie both laughed, leaving Tray and I to roll our eyes. I took Jeter off his leash, and he immediately went running over to Tray, who was more than willing to get down on the ground and wrestle with the giant dog. I went inside to get one of Jeter’s balls to throw around while Sookie and Amelia talked about pregnancy stuff. When Haley woke up, Sookie went up to the porch to feed her with a blanket draped over her chest for privacy.
We stayed outside until Sookie proclaimed she was starving and we needed to get started on dinner. Jeter followed me toward the garage. I caught my reflection in the sparkling window of the Comet, and had to stop and laugh. A year ago I never would have imagined I’d be pushing a baby stroller and getting ready to make my wife dinner. Crazy how things worked out.
I folded up the stroller and put it back in the trunk of the car. Sookie was in the middle of changing Haley’s diaper when I walked in. She’d put the veggies and steak on the counter for me. I took the dirty diaper off the sofa and put it in the garbage. I washed my hands and smiled over at Sookie, who was blowing raspberries on Haley’s stomach. There was no laughter yet, but it was only a matter of time. Haley did, however, get a handful of Sookie’s hair and yank for all she was worth.
“Ouch!” Sookie reached to gently untangle our daughter’s fingers from her hair.
“Good to know she’ll be able to take on heavyweights and still be able to scrap when she needs to.” I leaned over the couch.
“Haha. Just wait until it’s your hair she’s yanking on.” Sookie narrowed her eyes at me, but then her eyes lit up. “Maybe I should cut my hair.”
I must have made a face of disapproval at her suggestion, because she laughed and told me to relax.
Sookie squeezed my hand when the nurse gave Haley her first shot. Our daughter screamed her little lungs out, her face turning bright red and tears squeezing out of her scared blue eyes. If it killed me to see Sookie cry, it was even worse to see Haley so upset. I wanted to deck the nurse for causing her any sort of pain, but I knew it was necessary. It was over in a matter of seconds, but it felt like hours. As soon as Haley’s little legs were bandaged, Sookie picked her up and started to comfort her.
We were told we could give her some baby Tylenol and that would help with any discomfort Haley might feel in the aftermath. We were also warned she would probably sleep for most of the afternoon as a result of the shots she’d been given. I honestly think the shots were more painful for Sookie than they were for Haley.
On the ride home we had the radio on quietly. Haley was zonked out in the backseat. Sookie was sitting beside me, holding my hand. The song changed, and Sookie smiled over at me with a curious look on her face.
“What?” I asked her.
“You don’t remember, do you?”
“Should I?” It was some fluffy pop number I would expect to hear at the bar, but wouldn’t be caught dead with in my personal collection.
“It’s LoveGame by Lady Gaga. It was playing the first time I saw you.” Sookie smirked at me.
I paused to listen to the words for a minute. I’m on a mission, and it involves some heavy touchin’ yeah. You’ve indicated your interest, I’m educated in sex, yes. And now I want it bad, want it bad. Yep, that about sums up the way things were the night we met. I couldn’t help but turn to her and wiggle my eyebrows.
Sookie laughed, then peered over her seat to check on Haley, who was still out like a light. She picked up my hand and kissed it. “And to think, all of this started with a Screaming Orgasm.”