The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
It’s one of the simplest stories around, the eternal struggle of mankind, almost Zen-like in its undeniable truth. This rough translation from a 1786 poem by Robert Burns winds its way through history, completely unperturbed by progress and time. It was, of course, the grand inspiration for John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, a book you probably forgot all about after middle school. Even more, it’s an instructional quote to remember any time you find expectations getting out of hand.
In other words, it’s a perfect line to keep in mind when you’ve got a baby on the way.
Bury yourself under a mountain of parenting books. Read all the blogs and medical journals and scientific articles you can. Ask your parents, grandparents, anyone who has experience raising a family. Accumulate more knowledge in a few months than most humans had access to in their entire lives just a half-century ago.
Build a protective wall of information around your life, set up a telescope on top, and gaze toward the future with as much certainty as you can muster. This new life’s coming and you are totally prepared to be the Best Dad Ever.
But remember that the only thing you can truly guarantee is that your expectations will shatter the moment that new life comes screaming into view.
I keep thinking of a quote from a book I read back in high school, Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk. “Under and behind and inside everything the man took for granted, something horrible had been growing.” Chuck’s prowess as an author and cultural force may be debatable, but his ability to package truth into tidy turns of phrase is undeniable. This quote has, for almost two decades now, made a home in my brain, reminding me to stay alert, observant, and flexible. It’s a reminder that even if I’m doing everything right, life can come along and fuck things up.
Instead of an excuse for inaction, it’s a call to arms: always be prepared. Turns out my Boy Scouts experience wasn’t pointless after all.
My son isn’t born yet, but I know this lesson as well as I know anything else in life. I’ve seen dreams go up in smoke and plans derailed; my life has turned through so many detours that I don’t know what the main road looks like anymore. And that’s okay. One of the things that makes us human is our ability to adapt. One of the things that makes us better is our capacity for letting go and moving on.
Letting go is one of the most difficult things we can ever do, so of course it’s one of the most important aspects of building a life that can weather hardship. That’s kind of the human condition in a nutshell: the tough stuff always hurts. I’ve struggled with letting go of the past all my life, and at this point I’m just starting to be good at it.
Becoming a dad has forced me to shed a lot of baggage. I welcome the big change that will come when my son is finally in my arms, the feeling of old concerns withering away and dropping off like vestigial limbs. In the face of such a radical shift in priorities, the little things can hopefully appear as unnecessary as they truly are.
In a fit of serendipity, we received some bad news just as I was writing this post. Despite our months of careful design, our twice-revised birth plan, and our more-than-weekly appointments to set things up, the hospital called to cancel our planned induction. This was kind of devastating to hear.
A little backstory is in order: this pregnancy has been hell on Kaitlyn. A woman who never once had to go to the ER in her life found herself being rocketed there, courtesy of me, twice in a matter of weeks. A woman who used to run half-marathon lengths before work on a daily basis was now suddenly faced with the prospect of being unable to even jog regularly. A woman who was always a picture of health, in total control of her life, found herself a prisoner of her own body. I won’t run down a list of the symptoms, but suffice it to say that she’s checked off a good percentage of the pregnancy complication possibilities over the past nine months.
If something could happen, it did. At the very least, it’s been good practice for our journey as parents.
Kaitlyn has been an absolute champion throughout this whole pregnancy, facing every challenge with me by her side, offering any support I could. I’m in awe of her. Through the rough stuff and days of uncertainty, she prevailed. So when the end was in sight and we had a solid date on the calendar for when our son was going to begin the birth process, we finally had a bright light at the end of this dark tunnel.
The cancellation felt like being tripped just before the finish line. We suddenly weren’t going to be induced today. Not at the hospital we wanted, not with the doctors we sought, and not anywhere near the time we’d been planning.
We swung into action. Well, mostly she swung into action. After a series of hard phone calls, Kaitlyn secured an appointment to begin induction at a new hospital, miraculously with our same preferred doctor. Our plan was derailed, but only by a little bit, thanks to quick thinking and a bit of effort – and tears.
So now I’m sitting in the corner of a hospital room while she rests at center, waiting for the Cervadil to take effect. I’m typing to the steady rhythm of our baby boy’s heartbeat on a nearby monitor while she watches Planet Earth II on her laptop. It’s a peaceful space for now, a literal pregnant pause before the controlled chaos of childbirth. After getting the rug pulled out from under us this morning, it feels like heaven to know we’re here and ready and baby is coming.
Still, I feel like I’m ready for anything now.
The house has been renovated, the baby furniture has been built, the car seats are installed, and our home is filled to the brim with diapers and wipes. It feels weird to prepare so much for something that brings so many unknown possibilities, but here we are.
Recently, a good friend and father of two put it perfectly. He told me, “We had so many plans… Throw all of them out the window and just keep your kid alive.”