Saturday, September 13th, 2014:
My timing has never been great, but sometimes I get lucky.
I am about to leave my parents’ home in a rural Pennsylvania town to travel by car two hours north to another rural Pennsylvania town. One of my best friends is getting married.
Months before, I’d bought a round-trip ticket from New York so that I could attend the wedding and then make it back to Brooklyn so I could sleep for a few hours and go to work the following Monday.
But then the doctors told my sister-in-law, Whitney, that she was likely going to give birth to her first child, a girl they’d call Adeline, on September 17th.
So I took some time off work and extended my stay. I could go to the wedding, come back, hang out with my family while they were all still into me — which is to say before a baby is born — and then hang out with the baby when she came. I’d even be around a couple days afterward, to teach her how to drive and stuff like that.
At around 11:30AM, my big brother Kevin calls my parents’ house. I answer, say “Sperm bank! You whack it, we pack it.”
“Whitney is 8 centimeters dilated, and her water broke,” Kev says, completely ignoring my hilarious joke. He tells me they are going to “take them up” soon. I don’t know what this means and I try not to imagine an alien abduction. I will let Mom know, I tell him, when she is out of the shower.
“It’s going to happen soon!” Mom says when I shout at her through the bathroom door. She’s stoked.
I travel north to witness a wedding.
I ask for an update as I walk toward the chapel and my dad tells me that Whitney has been epidural-ed up and is going to start pushing soon. I walk into the ceremony late and everyone turns around to stare at us because when the door opens they expect bridesmaids to begin colorfully pouring out. Instead, it is my best friend Evan and I, and I knock my shin off one of the doors, scream a girly “Ehh!!!!” like Elmo would if he was playing tennis, as I enter the chapel.
We find friends and stand next to them. The ceremony begins wonderfully, but then an intermission is called when the readers realize that the readings have been left in the chapel’s basement.
I use this opportunity to fire up Tinder. I assume that it will be a different dynamic in Erie, Pa. than in NYC. (I like to Tinder in churches as my little rebellion against organized religion. I’m a sad human being.)
But before I can begin swiping right with reckless abandon, I am shoved by a push notification from Kev.
It’s a picture of my niece, Adeline, with her mom, moments after she entered our world. “She came at 4:13PM,” the text reads.
This is when something weird happens.
The little baby of your brother’s that you’ve been waiting for, who you’ve been preparing emotionally for, is now a tangible, living thing. More than a thing. She is a baby girl who shares your bloodline, who was literally created by two of your favorite people in the world — a world that she is now a participating part of.
I have never been happier in a place where Catholicism is regularly practiced.
I do not know how to react. I want to freak out audibly, start screaming that I am an uncle, but far be it from me to steal the thunder from my friends on their wedding day. If I’m lucky, I’ll be an uncle more than once. If they’re lucky, they will not have another wedding day.
After the ceremony, I thrust pictures of my niece in the face of anyone who will make even momentary eye contact with me. I cannot go home, as I do not have a car, and everyone with a car is piss-drunk, so I must wait to meet my niece until the next day. I spend most of the night grinning like an idiot at my cell phone, fully realizing that I used to be the kind of guy who would chastise a person for posting and/or looking at a bunch of pictures of an infant.
I meet my dad at a Walgreens in my hometown, where I have just finished getting a tetanus booster, which doubles as the whooping cough immunization. Whitney insisted we get it before meeting the baby. We pick up my grandparents and head south toward the city and Magee Women’s Hospital. I don’t really know what I feel.
After signing in as hospital guests and taking an elevator to the second floor, I get excited and leave my grandparents behind me as I power walk my way to my family’s room on the maternity ward.
I knock and enter and lay eyes on Adeline for the first time. Usually when I get super happy or sentimental, I begin weeping uncontrollably. But this time, nothing. Because I seem to have entered some level of shock that was unlocked by reaching some level of happiness that I have never even thought was possible. I am not, most often, an extremely happy individual. I was not programmed that way. For a long time, there has been a streak of anger, sadness and (sadly) objective realism that is perpetually bubbling underneath the surface. Before I lay eyes on Adeline, it’s at a higher level than normal (on account of some first-world grad school problems, but that’s a story for another day).
But suddenly every negative thing is ripped from my body. I am not prepared for this. Because, quite honestly, you can’t be. When I enter the room, one of Whitney’s friends is holding Adeline. She is quickly but delicately transferred to me, the final Muska sibling to meet the new addition to the family.
As soon as I take that little human being in my arms, feel her warmth, make sure I’m supporting her neck in the proper fashion while looking into her eyes, I realize that I am forever changed. I now have a niece, which means I have certain responsibilities as an uncle. But it also means that my life has improved in a very dramatic way — a way you can’t anticipate when you’re still looking at the birth in an abstract way. This little, beautiful, seven-pound girl is the most important thing I have ever held in my hands in my life. While I’m cooing nonsense to her about how I love her and how we are going to have so much fun together, I am already thinking of ways I can get my shit together, things I can do so that she won’t grow up to view me as the weird, drunken uncle who never really commits to much more than himself. I make a mental note to curb my swearing anytime I’m around her, and to never indulge in the vices I hold so dear when she is in my presence, because she is dearer to me than any of those vices (and let me tell you something — I love my vices).
I hand her off to my younger brother and go to tell Kevin that he has done a great job. I have never seen him so happy, and that in itself fills me with another rush of happiness. I’m f**king thrilled.
I have often wondered what specific reasons people had for pro-creating. And I have often wondered — and complained — about my Facebook and Instagram feeds rife with photos of infants.
But now I understand that a baby is the best thing you can do, really — it’s a combination of you and your partner’s and your families’ genetics, a little continuation of your self. And when you create something so amazing, you’d have to be a real weirdo to not want to share him or her with anyone you can reach.
And when I held Adeline for the first time, I began to fully understand one of the principle reasons people want to have and raise children, why such a physically small girl can have such a big effect on your life:
One of the greatest successes in life is to care wholeheartedly about something more than you care about yourself.