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When Chase Was Born

Dad's Side: Spousal Support

Give it a rest, I tell her. I know that she takes this as some kind of failure. But to me, Melina is a natural mother with or without a direct mammary pipeline to our son.

Throughout Melina's pregnancy, I have bitten my tongue down to a nub, so ready am I to advise her on the ABCs of child rearing. Not only have I been through this before, but I was founding editor of BabyCenter.com, an online resource for new and expectant parents. So I understand the nuts and bolts, the shoulds, must-dos, and watch-outs. But I'm back in it, and frankly, the brash security I had assumed was a right of experience is fast disappearing.

My unease forces me into know-it-all mode. But many things I think I know have faded with time, and I begin to second-guess myself. I realize, uncomfortably, that like a hockey player too long away from his skates, I'm just plain rusty at babying. Melina's instincts trump my experience; what feels right to her is right.

She ignores most of my advice, but about breastfeeding she relents. We buy a bottle sterilizer. I summon up more sage advice, reminding Melina what I had told her when we were dating -- that kids eventually roll off the bed and hit the floor. Nothing to fear, I assure her now. Just be prepared, and expect that somehow, sometime, it will happen.

Melina shakes her head. "Not on my watch," she says.

We enter the true slipstream of parenting, when even the crappy stuff seems exalted and wonderful, and all the problems and trials pale next to the pure babyness of little Chase.

Staggering around in the dark following a trail of nightlights. The spray of pee that greets me when I change his diapers at 3 a.m. Hovering over him at some ridiculous deep-dark hour and wishing, minutes after I finally get him to sleep, that he would actually wake up so we can play.

Finally we think our lives are almost back to normal. I should know better.

We are out of town and I leave to exercise. As I hoist weights, I feel good, on top of things, in the full swing of my paternity leave.

I'm driving back from the gym when my cell phone rings. "Keith, um, we have a problem. Chase rolled off the bed."

"What!" I bark, bringing my foot down on the accelerator. "Is he okay?"

"I think so. He cried a lot, but he seems fine. Except for the bump and the rug burn."

I groan. "How could this happen? He's so young." When Adam, my eldest, first hit the floor, he was 11 months old. Of course I want Chase to be precocious, but not like this. I get home and Chase looks as if he's been in a rumble. Melina is near tears. I am not the calm dad I imagined I would be. I conjure up fears of brain damage, that his skull won't knit properly, that he has cracked vertebrae.

We race to the pediatrician's office, then wait in uncomfortable silence. Chase wiggles away, unperturbed. But what if? My BabyCenter braggadocio seems a long way off. This is real. I'm spooked and upset. I want to be supportive, but I knew this would happen, and Melina had refused to accept this inevitability of parenting.

My anger subsides, and we see the doctor. I almost cry at his gentle, solicitous manner. He tells us to go on a 24-hour watch for signs of bleeding, erratic behavior, inconsolable crying.

We do.

Chase, it turns out, is fine.

In the scant months since he was born, I find myself remarking on how things seem so different with him than with Adam. Not better or worse -- just different. There is so much more information out there, and the world is more complicated, more dangerous. Sure, I raised a son, but I'm clueless about this one.

And I know that it's not just Chase that's different. I'm different. I'm older, certainly, and maybe a little wiser. Because I realize that I really don't know anything about raising babies. But I can be an equal with my wife in watching Chase change our lives forever.

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