On Friday my oldest kid turned ten. Ten! Ten is a lot. Ten is a strike in bowling, a perfect score in gymnastics, all the Commandments, the Pearl Jam album everybody owns. It’s a big birthday. No wonder he woke up that day referring to himself as “Double Digit Guy.”

He also got up ahead of his alarm, partly because birthdays are exciting and partly because in our house we always have pancakes on Friday. But then this guy has been a young man in a hurry since the day he was born, which was exactly a month before his due date.

I think a lot of parents remember their kids’ birthdays pretty vividly, or at least their literal days of birth. In my case, I not only remember that day but I feel it when I think back. Or maybe those feelings were so big that they’ve just stuck around the whole time. It’s fine if so; they are pretty good feelings, after all.

(Before we go any further I should say that even though I’m the one telling the story I’m the least important character in it. My wife deserves all the credit for having the baby; the kid deserves the credit for being awesome. But neither of them have newsletters, so here we are.)

Of course, when this all started it wasn’t all good feelings. Not that I wasn’t excited – I’m one of those people who has always wanted kids – but getting to that point took four years of fertility doctors, tests, procedures, follow-up tests, meetings, and, of course, lots of paperwork for the insurance people. We had lots of disappointments. We had some really hard times. So even when we finally got this breakthrough, I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high.

But, then, I didn’t want to get my hopes too low, either. So I low-key started getting into parent mode. Touring the delivering rooms at the hospital, taking the birthing classes, and cat-proofing the baby’s crib and changing table from our cat, Rocky, who registered high on the derp scale and was liable to climb into the crib at night, or eat the diaper paste, or get stuck (Rocky actually turned out to be an angel around our kids, except for occasionally trying to sneak a taste of their baby formula. But nobody would’ve guessed that at the time.)

We only told a few people what was happening at first, mostly family. I called my dad in Illinois and said he should check his inbox. “You guys must be pregnant if you’re telling me to check my email,” he said, thrilled. He passed away later that year, so he didn’t get to meet the boy, but he knew he was coming, which is pretty special. My mom had a dream that we were going to name the baby Lance. When we said that wasn’t the name, she started calling him Baby Not Lance.

Picking the name was tricky. Our list was so empty my wife and I started blurting out random words just to have something written down. We’d drive past a sign on the highway and she’d say, “how about Billboard?” We’d watch a football game, and I’d say, “what about Ochocinco?” When we finally found a name we liked we kept it to ourselves; if you don’t tell anyone the name they can’t try to talk you out of it. Plus, if the baby doesn’t look like that name you chose, you can always pick again. In public we referred to him by his code name: Lando, from “Star Wars.”

In mid-March the doctor put my wife on bedrest, so we knew the little guy would be coming early, and, sure enough, on March 25, at a checkup, the doc said he needed to be born the next day. As the only non-bedrest member of the household I had to make the necessary arrangements, double-check the bags we’d packed for the hospital, and put in the replacement sump pump we’d bought for the basement. My wife is the handy one, and we both figured we’d have time to do the install, but parents have to rise to the occasion sometimes, right?

We got to the hospital at 7 am, but it wasn’t until after lunch that the medicine to induce the birth kicked in – fast. Too fast in that the baby was too far along to give his mama pain meds. The closest alternative was me saying, “If it hurts, squeeze my arms,” and by the time the baby came my forearms were kind of numb and tingly. Watch someone give birth and you’re watching an act of bravery. The baby even caught the doctors by surprise. “I feel like I need to push!” my wife said. The doctor said not yet, the baby probably wasn’t going to come for a few more hours. Then he checked again. “Did I say hours? I meant minutes.”

And then, there he was. The doctor flopped him on mom for a moment and had me cut the umbilical cord. I hadn’t planned on that, but I figured if I’d installed a sump pump I could probably handle this too. Then another group of nurses started checking the little guy out while the birth team tended to my wife. Where was I supposed to be? Do I stay with my wife as she recovers from doing a very amazing, very hard thing, or do I go with my newborn? “GO WITH THE BABY,” my wife told me. I went with the baby.

Baby boy is sleeping very comfortably in Mama's arms.

In birthing classes and on TV shows, newborns are loud, but this baby was so quiet. He was woozy from the medication they’d given my wife, so he was just sort of laying there, not doing a whole lot. I didn’t want to interrupt the medical team as they measured and put monitors on and gave him oxygen, but I really wanted to know… is he ok? Is all of this stuff you’re doing normal newborn baby stuff, or is there something scary going on? One of the nurses must’ve noticed my concern, because she turned to me and said, “He’s pink. He’s breathing. He’s going to be fine.” And for the first time in eight months – maybe in four years – I stopped worrying. When we posted his birth announcement online that afternoon, we described him like Harry Potter: he was the boy who lived!

We were in the hospital for two weeks, making sure our little early bird was ready to go home. It took him a while to get the hang of eating, but he got there. And his parents did ok too, despite a few hiccups: while rocking the baby to sleep one night, I accidentally teetered the chair back too far, sending us toppling toward the wall. But I wrapped him up in my arms and took the impact on the back of my head. (That’s one part of this memory I wish I couldn’t still feel. Ouch.) When it was time for his first baby bath, the nurse said “this will make you feel like a new man.” To which I replied, “He is a new man.” My first dad joke!

That new man is now a big, smart, funny, kind-hearted ten year old. He may have been a quiet newborn but now he’s got plenty to say. In fact, he’s now the one telling the jokes in the house. Sometimes, when I’m not looking, he sneaks into the living room, asks the smart speaker to play “Never Gonna Give You Up” and runs out, giggling. He Rickrolls me. Ten years is a lot, and all of it is good.